The debate around the devolution of power in the Local Government (LG) has once again sprung up in the Punjab Assembly. The first draft of the LG law suggests the return to the urban-rural divide present during General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s tenure. Such a divide removes the layers of LG bodies functional to the level of the union councils (UCs) and instead brings them under one umbrella. If we look at the functioning of the LG bodies within the province, we will realise that the devolution might work in favor of the government. While the previous devolution allowed for more distribution of power, that distribution was delayed more often than not; which prohibited these bodies from performing their roles.

If we observe the lowest devolution of UCs in Punjab, we will realise that the role performed by UC officials is limited to water and sanitation, and parks and recreation. However, private companies had taken responsibility for such initiatives. We saw the rise of the Saaf Paani Project along with Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC). With the presence of such bodies, UC officials are limited to the absence of work. With such circumstances at play, it would be beneficial to reduce the divide and establish joint authorities for performing various functions. The challenge, however, will be to ensure that timely elections take place and proper feedback channels are established to ensure that work takes place and mechanisms for public participation are increased so that voter-representative relationships are established, creating more accountability.

The draft law also aims to establish proper diplomatic channels to ensure the hierarchy of the work. For instance, the council and its committees and sub-committees shall act through resolutions. However, the government must also be wary of red tape in such matters. We have a history of work remaining pending due to diplomatic loopholes which create inefficiency and work is delayed. The law, in theory, is practical and aims to strengthen the LG system; however, there is a chance that it may face opposition in the provincial assembly because previous governments had assigned people for these roles. Whether or not they were performing their duties is another case. If the government wants the law to be implemented, all those who will be sidelined as a result need to be accommodated within the system based on their credentials.