Empowering provinces

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In Pakistan, politicians and bureaucrats have visibly – and gradually – deprived the citizenry of their voices and their resources. Those in power and authority view local representation as a burden, but they use it as a means to pamper and oblige their pocket constituencies. By compromising the electoral process, decision-makers of the provincial and federal governments are easily able to divert resources to specific voter constituencies as opposed to the general public. Hence, Imran Khan’s pledge to the provinces in resolution of their issues and making the federating units stronger, should be lauded. Moreover, he assures to make the Council of Common Interests (CCI) an effective platform what will play a positive role for the resolution of issues among the provinces and will strengthen the federation.

Nonetheless, the taste of Musharraf-era local governments still lingers; those were the times when the zila nazim-dominated areas were as big as five to six constituencies of a Member of National Assembly. The nazims had vast resources at their disposal. The use of these nazims for raising a new political leadership, by-passing political parties, is another powerful factor. Fast forward to today and the current democratic dispensation – at the centre and provincial levels – is creating hurdles in one form or the other to stop devolution of power to the grassroots. In all four provinces, local governments are, in one way or another, subordinated to the dictates of provincial governments. So much so, even basic functions – which can be turned into lucrative contracts, such as garbage collection – have been taken off the list of subjects on which local authority can act. All financial powers now rest with the deputy commissioners’ offices. As representatives of provincial governments, they have the authority to release funds, and audit zila councils. If the local representation is to have any real meaning in contributing to the lives of citizens, it needs to have the resources and authority to address the provision of services and the challenges of development.

There are many ways for local government representatives to gain recognition from constituents and the trust of provincial and central governments. It could be one of many things like dovetailing city/council plans to the execution of provincial government initiatives in polio eradication, elimination of dengue, anti-food adulteration drive, price control, anti-quackery, crack down on child labour, elimination of illiteracy, land revenue collection, and federal causes such as census. Local communities are naturally more accessible, more sympathetic, and quicker to respond to local needs. The local government is the directly available source for citizens to get in contact with governmental structures in the everyday course of life. If democracy is strengthened at the local level, then the necessary access to information will make local people more participatory.