Governance at doorstep

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The Local Governments in Punjab have been sent packing. And there is a new LG law under which elections will be held. Prime Minister Imran Khan is confident that this system that is based on his party’s lessons-learnt from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province over the last five years will deliver. Announcing the road map for two-tier local government elections he said Punjab and KP will have a new municipal system whereas villages will have a Panchayat system.

As many as 22,000 village councils in Punjab would, according to the roadmap, enable development at a lower level and also bring in new leadership. Cities will be allowed to collect taxes under the act to self-finance their development projects.

Conversely, the LG representatives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa themselves have been complaining about the apathy of their provincial government led by the PTI then. Their main grievances included withholding of funds for various welfare schemes, PTI government’s reluctance to allow devolution of power and discrimination against LG representatives belonging to the opposition parties.

Unfortunate as it is, the LG system has been used to suit the past rulers’ peculiar needs. The political parties at best resisted this basic democratic system. PML-N government did not hold the much delayed LG elections until after the Supreme Court’s intervention back in 2015. Once the system was in place, the provincial governments were reluctant to support it on one pretext or the other. Even KP was no different, PTI chief Imran Khan’s commitment to strengthening the LG system notwithstanding.

The military rulers used this system to serve their own interests. General Pervez Musharraf had promulgated the Local Government Ordinance 2001, under which a new system of local governments was introduced across the country replacing the 1979 local government system introduced by another military dictator General Ziaul Haq.

After the 18th Amendment, local bodies’ elections became a provincial subject. Pathetically, true benefits of the local government system are not reaching the masses and it is still passing through the evolution phase. The provincial governments withhold welfare funds so that it could be used through MPAs and MNAs instead of local representatives.

The PTI that was avowedly against the disbursement of such funds to parliamentarians could not resist the temptation and followed the same course. In this situation, ordinary citizens face enormous problems. Minor day to day civic problems remain unresolved due to non-availability of funds.

Now that the PTI government has promised to bring a change and to lay the foundation of a true democratic system in the country, it is in the interest of the PTI government that it should implement its policies. If the PTI strengthens local bodies system, it would improve its image.