Dr Ahmed Rizwan
Local government is the third tier of government in a federal system, which consists of a central government and several subnational governments. Local government is responsible for providing essential services and facilities to the citizens at the grassroots level, such as health, education, sanitation, water supply, roads, etc. Local government is also supposed to promote participatory democracy, accountability, transparency, and responsiveness in governance. Federal and provincial governments are coordinating governments in a federation, whereas the local government is the operational government.
In Pakistan, local government is protected by the constitution in Articles 32 and 140-A, and each province has its own local government-enabling legislation and departments responsible for implementation. An act forms local governments in Pakistan, and its future and sustainability depend upon the quality of the act passed by the provincial assembly. However, the history and practice of local government in Pakistan have been marked by frequent changes, interruptions, and controversies. One of the best local government systems was introduced by the military regime of General Musharraf in 2001. The system had three tiers: district, tehsil, and union councils in rural areas and city district, town, and union committees in urban areas. The system also introduced direct elections for the heads of local councils and reserved seats for women, peasants, workers, and minorities. The system also devolved some administrative, financial, and planning powers to the local councils and established district coordination officers (DCOs) and district police officers (DPOs) as the main links between the provincial and local governments.
The local government system in Pakistan has been criticized on various grounds, such as social, political, cultural, financial, economic, and administrative.
Social: The system has failed to address the social issues and needs of the local communities, such as poverty, inequality, gender discrimination, human rights, etc. The system has also been accused of creating ethnic and sectarian divisions and conflicts, especially in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious areas of the country. The system has also been challenged by the traditional and feudal power structures, such as the tribal elders, landlords, and religious leaders, who have resisted the empowerment of marginalized groups, such as women, peasants, workers, and minorities.
Political: The system has been used as a tool of political manipulation and patronage by the central and provincial governments, who have interfered in the functioning and autonomy of the local councils. The system has also been politicized by the local elites, who have used their influence and resources to capture the local councils and to pursue their personal and partisan interests. The system has also been marred by corruption, nepotism, and maladministration, which have eroded the trust and confidence of the public in the local government.
Cultural: The system has not been able to accommodate the cultural diversity and pluralism of the local communities, such as the languages, customs, traditions, values, etc. The system has also been insensitive to the cultural sensitivities and preferences of the local people, such as the role of women, the status of minorities, the expression of dissent, etc. The system has also been influenced by the colonial legacy and the bureaucratic culture, which have hampered the innovation and creativity of the local government.
Administrative: The system has faced many administrative challenges and constraints, such as the lack of capacity, coordination, communication, and cooperation among the local councils and between the local and provincial governments. The system has also needed more clarity, complexity, and consistency of the legal and institutional frameworks, which have created confusion and conflict among the stakeholders. The system has also been affected by the instability, uncertainty, and discontinuity of the local government, which have disrupted the planning and implementation of local development projects and programs.
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Financial: The system has been constrained by the inadequate, irregular, and unequal allocation and distribution of financial resources to the local councils. The system has also been dependent on grants, loans, and subsidies from the provincial and federal governments, which have reduced the fiscal autonomy and accountability of the local government. The system has also been inefficient and ineffective in generating and managing its own revenues, such as taxes, fees, charges, etc. The system has also been wasteful and unaccountable in spending and auditing its expenditures, which have resulted in the misuse and misappropriation of public funds.
Economic: The system has not been able to foster the economic development and growth of the local areas, such as the creation of employment, income, and livelihood opportunities, the provision of infrastructure and utilities, the promotion of trade and commerce, etc. The system has also been unable to cope with economic challenges and pressures, such as inflation, unemployment, poverty, etc. The system has also been unable to harness the economic potential and resources of the local areas, such as the natural, human, and social capital, innovation and entrepreneurship, etc.
Democratic: The system has not been able to enhance the democratic participation and representation of the local people, such as the election, consultation, feedback, and accountability mechanisms. The system has also been unable to ensure democratic principles and values, such as the rule of law, the separation of powers, checks and balances, transparency and openness, etc. The system has also been unable to protect democratic rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of expression, association, and assembly, the right to information, the right to public service, etc.
Finally, the local government system in Pakistan has been a mixed bag of achievements and failures, opportunities and challenges, and hopes and frustrations. The system has been a significant step towards decentralization and devolution but has also been a source of contention and conflict. The system has been a potential catalyst for local development and democracy but has also been a victim of political and bureaucratic interference and manipulation. The system has been a reflection of the diversity and complexity of the local realities, but it has also been a manifestation of the problems and paradoxes of the federal system. Therefore, the system needs to be reformed and improved in order to fulfil its objectives and expectations and to contribute to the overall progress and prosperity of the country.
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