LAHORE  -  Despite two months’ working on the rough draft of the new local government system, the Punjab government is still in a state of confusion over some key points.

While there is some clarity on some of the features of the new system, the government’s legal minds keep changing their opinions on the basic structure.

The provincial departments of law and the local government had previously agreed to do without the Tehsil tier to keep most of the powers with the city governments headed by mayors. Punjab Senior Minister Abdul Aleem Khan also announced couple of weeks back that Prime Minister Imran Khan had given his approval to the new local bodies’ system.

Moreover, a bill on the new local government system was also put on the agenda of Assembly business on the last day of the budget session. A minister was supposed to introduce the bill but the government withdrew it from the government business at the last moment.

On Sunday, Senior Punjab Minister Aleem Khan took a U-turn and announced that a Tehsil tier has also been added in the new draft after approval of the prime minister. Though the senior minister did not say this, but there are reports that the government also wants to do away with the system of District Councils for the rural areas.

This involves a whole new legal exercise to be undertaken to end the overlapping of functions between the district and Tehsil administrations.

According to sources, a committee headed by Punjab Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs has been constituted to finalise the draft law.

Also, the government is indecisive about the tenure of the new local governments. The existing law provides for four-year term. But the wavering stance of the present government on the fate of present local bodies which are going to complete their tenure in 2020 is also adding to the confusion. The government is yet to decide whether to curtail their tenure through amendment in the law or allow them to complete their stipulated period.

Thankfully, the government has not shown any intent as yet to change the provisions which envisage party-based direct election of mayors and deputy mayors for the cities. Likewise, the rural areas will have directly elected chairmen and deputy chairmen, and their election will also be held on party basis.

There is also no likelihood of changing the recommendations about non-party based election of the members of neighbourhood councils in cities and village councils in the rural areas. The existing union councils in the cities under the present system have been renamed as neighbourhood councils.

These councils will have three elected and an equal number of non-elected members. Three seats have been reserved for youth, women and minorities. A population base of 10,000 to 20,000 has been fixed for these councils depending on various factors.

A different mode of election for three directly elected seats of councillors in a neighbourhood and village council has been proposed. The candidates coming at number first, second and third position would be declared elected out of any number of candidates contesting for the three seats.

A provision regarding 30 percent funds allocation for the local bodies out of the Annual Development Programme (ADP) of provincial government is also intact. Same is true of the 30 percent funds allocations for the neighbourhood and village councils out of the total budget allocation of provincial local government department.

The senior minister believes that financial and administrative powers enjoyed by the chief minister in the past would now be with the mayor of every city and people’s problems would be solved at local level under the new system. He also maintains that the new local bodies’ setup in Punjab would be one of its own kind and even the political opponents would not be able to raise finger.

MUBASHIR HASSAN