It is an uncontested fact that the third tier of democracy – the local government system – has been treated as an afterthought at best, and willfully neglected at worst by successive governments. The vast majority of Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk’s time was spent hounding the provinces, especially Punjab, to hold the constitutionally mandated local bodies’ elections.
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Even with this process complete, the union and district councils suffered for long in bureaucratic limbo; with little power to no power and widespread confusion over the functions and organisation of the bodies. As a result these bodies have been largely ineffective and have played a marginal role in the nation’s administration.
It is therefore quite refreshing to see that the new government is seeking to empower local bodies and is looking to do it at the outset of the term. According to reports Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to give final approval to the basic structure of the new local government systems in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa soon. Many decisions, such as reducing the structure from a three-tier one to a two-tier one to reduce duplication of efforts are welcome, as is the pledge to give development funds to these local bodies instead of the constituencies members of parliament.
However, when we come to a complex matter as local government structure, speed and decisiveness often translates into haste and arbitrariness. One would have hoped that the government had spent more time consulting stakeholders and forming research based academic opinions on the exact ills of the system and how to correct them. Instead we have witnessed the government do what every government has done before it; impose their ad-hoc will on the system without due diligence. The result has been an institution that has never been allowed to settle or develop.
The fact that Balochistan has opted out of the proposed reforms and there is no word on Sindh and GB is also problematic. The local government reform needs to be carried out on the parliamentary level instead of the executive one; to set down a uniform, modern and refined system for everyone.