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LG system heading towards ‘powerless’ phase

The local government system in the Punjab does not seem contributing much to the public welfare on coming into practical phase following elections of heads of metropolitan, municipal, district, town and union council levels.

 According to the opinions of the experts as well as the provisions of Punjab Local Government Act, 2013, itself, some grey areas have been identified, which show a departure from the powers and the authorities which elected representatives enjoyed in the past. The government functionaries, after completion of all the three phases of direct polls in December last year, had realised the fact that powers of the LG heads had been too much squeezed.  In the current law, the role of the LG heads has, by and large, been made recommendatory on the development schemes and works. What they would need to do for the public welfare at once will now pass through an institutionalised bureaucratic-cum-political forum (local boards) for approval and release of funds that too under the strict check of the chief executive of the province who enjoys the additional authorities to suspend/sack any head from top to bottom on being advised so by his bureaucratic lieutenants. The board will also control the employees at the local level.

At the grassroots level, health and education are the two vital areas which have direct bearing on the day-to-day public life. The areas of health and education command a big chunk of the provincial budget which over the years has exceeded more than Rs 100 billion and Rs 200 billion, respectively. Here the masses at the lowest level suffer the most, so the LG representatives need to remain in touch with the necessities, facilities, and difficulties being faced by both the departments.

Under the act, separate authorities will now be constituted to look after the affairs and spending on health and education sectors while the part of LG heads has been marginalised to a great extent. Like the past, the chief executive of the province will hold the sway in these sectors while all programmes, schemes, hiring, catering etc will be approved and carried out by these authorities to let LG men just oversee their execution.

Similarly, the LG heads’ involvement has also been narrowed to almost nothing in the matters of city development, solid waste management and sanitation as well as in the approval of construction plans and property fee collections, which previously was under the command of the town authorities. Now the powers concerned will go to the respective DGs of the departments acting under the authorities of the chief executive.  The audit of income and expenses of the LGs will be carried out by the government, which is not likely to infuse the requisite confidence in the local representatives as their performance on being judged on political basis will remain a constant fear to their authorities.

Leader of the opposition and PTI leader, Mian Mahmudur Rasheed, interacting with this scribe on the subject, says the LG heads will be deprived of all real powers whose delegation to them was otherwise necessary in terms of Article 140-A of the Constitution. In the existing system, the heads will enjoy the luxuries of only office and car while the real authorities will lie with the chief minister through the civil servants.  Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed states the PTI that has serious reservations over the reduced powers of the LG heads will raise the issue in the assembly.

Special Assistant to Chief Minister Rana Muhammad Arshad, speaking in support of the act, says through setting up authorities on health and education, the local heads have been made more powerful as previously the assembly members were involved in these areas which will be looked after by the mayors and chairmen. The local heads have been dispensed with the dependence of the secretaries concerned, he added. Similarly, at the UC level, chairmen have been delegated powers to deal with the matrimonial matters and other local issues, which, in fact, is transfer of magisterial powers to them, he said.

Rana Arshad affirms Rs286 billion have been earmarked for the local governments in the budget 2016-17, which will be released to them soon after the institution becomes operational. Under the CM directive, a handsome amount, he adds, has also been made available to meet the office and other expenses of the LG heads.

Rana Arshad avers if need arises, the government will go for legislation to give more powers to the LG heads.

A government source, on the condition of not being named, shared with the scribe that the PML-N which was sure to have most of his LG heads wanted to give freedom to the LG heads to control funds and complete schemes on their own to win hearts of the people, but it would be done in phases apace with next general elections coming near.

Source: The Nation

Byline: Sajid Zia

December 18, 2016

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