Saturday, January 9, 2010

Local Government

Local Government..the New Order.

Akhtar Ali.

The new claimants to power, the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muslim League (Nawaz), and the Awami National Party have shown hostility to local government dispensation as architected by the Musharraf regime. Traditionally the military dictatorships have patronized the local government to legitimize their rule and tried to replace the provincial and national leaders by the local   smaller leaders and new entrants. This hostility of politicians to the local government system is understandable and natural but is misplaced for obvious reasons recounted in the latter passages.

The main objections of the new provincial governments and the major parties are as follows:

  1. Local governments are corrupt.
  2. Provincial governments’ writ in the districts has been limited by the new LG system.
  3. Due to lack of executive magistracy (which they are proposing), it has become very difficult to exercise administrative powers in law and order, curtailing smuggling etc.
  4. Police has become more or less independent or autonomous due to confused control by Nazims and Public Safety Commissions.
  5. Overall provincial powers have been reduced.
  6. Performance and efficiency in the new LG system has been limited to specific sectors such as roads, and other devolved functions in education and health have suffered. Also all districts have not been able to perform well.

The new LG system seems to enjoy passive support from a wider circle of stake holders. The earlier criticism starting from total catapulting of the system has been replaced by a more balanced desire for meaningful modification of the system.

The ultra-new system has been negotiated over the past many months among the supporters and the opponents .Reportedly the proposed changes are to include the following:

  1. Curtailing the power and visibility of  Nazims wherever possible.
  2. Only including the classical functions of municipal domain like roads, water, sewerage, solid waste, excluding health and education.
  3. Somehow reviving the executive magistracy and bring in a provincial official in the districts, equal in power or more powerful than the elected Nazim.
  4. Slow down financial transfer to Local government, make it financially dependant on a daily basis .Thus paving way to partial throttling, a real destructive feature, but may be popular among the new.
  5. Bring in police function under total and direct control of the provincial home department.

One may tend to agree with the opponents that in the area of education and health no significant achievements have been noted. Perhaps it is part of the general apathy  to these two vital sectors despite proclamations to the contrary. Provincial governments may restore the formal system. But would that improve performance and service delivery. In both these sectors of education and health, policy  as well as implementation are equally important. A creative combination of shared powers and functions maybe developed to recognize the realities of policy versus implementation.


On corruption, no argument can be won or lost on this basis. All are equally corrupt, more or less, although there could be many exceptions. Various groups vie for powers to benefit from corruption.


Executive magistracy is an anachronistic colonial instrument regrettably supported by democratic forces. It is against the constitution and would not be permitted by the judicial challenges. Revival of the DMG (District Management Group) as DCs, and making the elected Nazims subservient to the former, is a sweet music for the DMG.

With the passage of time perhaps, the democratic forces, ruling and not ruling, would realize, that it is not in the interest of democracy and political power to make such changes. It has always been debatable that the police power should be entrusted to a partisan political leader, although police commissioners are elected official in the US system. However, the local conditions are different. It is hard to find a comparable, independence, maturity and integrity in one requirement.

Police could be reverted to the earlier system, but with oversight of stakeholders at the local (police station), district and provincial level, be it Public Safety Commissions or Panchayats or Committees, to thwart misuse of power by individuals or government itself.

Citizen Community Boards (CCB) have not proved to be either effective or without stigma. Citizens are not really “citizens” usually; they are special vested interest groups which manage to be inducted in the system and monopolize and exploit power and finances. Involving “people” directly in finance or execution of projects having money in it, never works. People can be good for oversight and their role should be restricted to that. CCBs may either be done away with, or modified to be oversight bodies without financial handling.

Finally and most importantly, popularly elected Local Governments are a part and parcel of the democratic system. It broadens, deepens and strengthens democracy, freedom and self rule. All democratic institutions including independent media and judiciary may at times appear to be uncomfortable to deal with, but are part of the democratic whole. Politicians and political parties should take a long term view, devoid of current and temporary loss or benefit, own the local government system and build their stakes in it.


A fundamental issue that has emerged is the primacy of power between an elected Nazim and the appointed official called, DC/DCO i.e., who reports to whom or who fires whom. In previous local body rules, Mayor used to be fired by provincial chief executive under the recommendations of the deputy commissioner (DC).Why is there so much interest in bringing the bureaucracy back by the politicians who complain to have suffered at the hands of bureaucracy and the establishment? From the point of view of the provincial governments , Nazim is a discontinuity and impediment in their power continuum leading to the districts and tehsils .A bureaucrat like a DC or DCO can be completely subservient to the dictates and directives from the CM’s or ministers’ offices , even on sundry and routine matters. The true power that is much enjoyed by our governing elites is to be able to muddle at the UC or tehsil level for awarding favors to the supporters and retributions to the opponents and getting involved in the hiring, firing and transfers of teachers, low level officials, doctors and nurses employed by the government. A Nazim is at best an inconvenience at his best and a hurdle at worst. Nazim can be from another party or may be too independent in his working style, even if he belongs to the same party. Nazim is elected by people and does not depend on the powerful, as usually DCs and DCOs do, for their promotions and assignments. A lot of structure has come to exist at the local government system which would resist and oppose domination and interference from outside.


In the NWFP and Sindh, the local bodies or government issue is a political one ,while in Punjab , it has probably more to do with the personal style of governance of the CM Punjab than any political preference of PML(N)., which may infact suffer politically due to an unwarranted opposition to an elected institution. Infact in the province of Sindh, with a coalition government in the saddle, there are significant chances of emergence of a compromise formula, and a fair and a balanced deal, taking care of the points of view of both the coalition partners. However in the other two provinces, the local government system appears to be at the mercy of the provincial governments who have been given the powers to architect their own versions of the system, seem to be hell bent to pervert and dilute the system, as there is no viable force in support of the system. At the end of the day, there may be two or more versions of the system, which may not be as bad as it may sound. There would be competition. Eventually one would win and the other will lose and go down with its supporters.


The notion that provincial governments have no role or power in the functioning of the system is not correct. They have a lot of financial and administrative power. Most of the local government employees and officials like EDOs  are the employees of the provincial government , although ideally there should have been a local government service cadre , which would also have been under provincial control for the economy of scale reasons. Provincial governments can enhance their role by taking interest in the monitoring and evaluation of projects and the line departments, even though they may not be formally involved in the execution of the projects. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an important function which can make a very useful and vital contribution to the operations of the departments and their programme and projects.

Although there are all kinds of forms, the practice of M&E is not very established in the provincial and federal governments. Only the foreign funded projects receive a modicum of M&E .


It is widely known and accepted that the local governments with some possible exceptions have not  been able to do any headway in the social sector .,or the local governments have not been as vocal in recounting their contribution in this respect , as they have been in other areas. Education is a classical loser in this country, no matter who rules at what level. Either we are not sufficiently interested in it, or are at a loss as to how to improve performance and achievement in this sector. Comparatively, perhaps, health sector gets a slightly better deal, because the patients’ sufferings and pressures manage to eke performance out of the respective departments. Instead of trying to take over the classical functions of the local bodies system, it is in the social and even economic sector that provincial governments can deliver comparatively better than the former. Some creative apportionment of functions could also be developed in these sectors, like supervision of school committees etc.


DC-the Development Commissioner and not the Deputy Commissioner.


Instead of attempting to revive the rather anachronistic executive magistracy and the deputy commissioners, it is suggested that the provincial governments appoint development commissioners in the districts, which ironically have the same rhyme and acronyms as the erstwhile DC. The function of this new DC is proposed to serve as eyes and ears of the provincial government, coordinating, horizontally and vertically among various tiers of the government, local, provincial and federal, mostly in connection with the development projects, but occasionally entrusted for some duties of operational nature. This DC would not be a part of the local government but would be a provincial official .Development projects of small and backward districts have traditionally suffered due to the lack of a supporting institution as has been proposed. It would be a great way of boosting development activity, simultaneously keeping the provincial governments informed of the performance of the local governments , albeit in the development sector. Are we ready for some creative and innovative additions?

No comments:

Post a Comment