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PROFILE

JOHN IVINSON

COLUMN FOR THE RECORD
POLITICS & POLICY 1- LOCAL BODIES CONVENTION
2-
PAK-INDONESIA RELATIONS

 

LOCAL BODIES CONVENTION

 

District nazims voiced concerns over the interference by the provincial governments as well as the parliamentarians

 


From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Islamabad
Dec 22 - 28, 2003 

 

 

The Provincial Governments as well as the bureaucracy came under sharp criticism in the Convention of the district nazims of the Local Government System held in Islamabad last week with Chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) the another of the Local Government System present as the chief guest.

A large number of district nazims representing all the four provinces participated in the convention where they, almost unanimously, alleged that the bureaucracy, assisted in many cases by the provincial government and members of provincial assemblies, were blocking the local government system. They appealed to President Gen Musharaf to intervene to save the system which could bring a real revolution in the country at the gross roots level. Nazims complained of meddling by provincial governments in the local government affairs and expressed helplessness in their multiple administrative affairs. They demanded freedom to work and more administrative powers from provincial government, to strengthen the district governments. The district nazims were mostly worried about the lack of protocol and no clear power to hold the district bureaucracy to accountability through punitive measures.

Almost all the district nazims participating in the workshop had voiced concerns over the interference by the provincial governments as well as the parliamentarians to execute their duties and exercise powers. They also expressed fear that if this trend continues, it will not only hamper the smooth functioning of the district governments but also impede the already initiated development process in their respective districts.

Chairman, NRB Daniyal Aziz assured the district nazims to remove all impediments on the way to success of the local government system. This system is to stay as it guarantees resolution of masses problems, and impediments on the way to make it a success, will be removed. Functioning of this system will be made smooth and I will take up all the issues pointed out by the nazims with the President, PM and the CMs at a high level meeting, he said in response to the concerns of the nazims. Continuing he said that this system provides a basis for socio-economic uplift at the grass root level as it had enabled the neglected segment of society to have a say in decision making for the first time in country's history as well as evolve strategy for development in their areas.

 

 

Daniyal Aziz also assured the nazims to arrange their meeting with President Pervez Musharraf as well as hold a national level convention so that all of them raise the issues confronting them. He, however asked the nazims to keep a vigilant eye on every move of those creating hurdles on the way to smooth functioning of the system and advised them to effectively communicate to the union council level, all measures being taken to allay the mounting fears among them. NRB chairman, however, observed that real problem was that powers had not been transferred to the provinces. The provinces have devolved the powers to the districts, but the federation has yet to empower the provinces.

Both in India and Pakistan, the local government system has declined from the stage where it was inherited under the British. Under pressure from the elected provincial politicians, devolution has been reversed. Each MPA wants to relate to his electorate through local developmental issues rather than legislation, which is not even understood at the grassroots level. Power, instead of moving down to the level of the districts, where elected councilors could hold the bureaucracy to account and punish it for incompetence, actually went up to the capital city. The federal and provincial governments encouraged this trend by setting aside development funds for MNAs and MPAs funds that should have gone down to the local bodies to be spent according to the priorities of the local population. More often than not these funds were embezzled although the government insisted that the money given to politicians personally had to be disbursed through the district bureaucracy. Needless to say, the district bureaucracy learned in the 1990s to obey the politician rather than respecting the needs of the people.

With the issuance of the Local Government Ordinance 2001 by General Musharraf and the local elections held under it, a new conflict between the politicians and the local representatives has begun. The local bodies are a provincial subject under the Constitution. Hence the ordinances about it were issued in the four provinces by governors appointed by General Musharraf and then inserted in Schedule Six of the Constitution under the LFO. This means in effect that the system has to be enforced as envisaged by a former military head of the NRB of questionable practical ability. If a provincial government feels that they system needs some realistic reform it may find itself hampered by the LFO, which requires that all changes made in the Constitution by General Musharraf be set aside or amended with a two-third majority in parliament. Therefore, the provincial governments of both varieties pro and anti Musharraf - are uncomfortable with the new powers of the local bodies.

Reversal to local government system was a step in the right direction. Presently, odds are against the local government but if it fails it will be a big tragedy. Devolution must take place and President Musharraf should promptly consult his legal advisors to take all necessary steps to save the system of local government.