All stakeholders – from the tehsil councilors to civil services departments – are confused over the future of the local government system in Punjab. But no one seems more confused than the Punjab government itself. Conventional wisdom suggests that a government will have done its homework, conducted through research and come up with definitive proposals before beginning the reform process. However the Punjab government seems to abide by a more maverick attitude to such concerns. As the veritable chaos reigning over the reform effort suggest, no one seems to have an idea where this is going.

Perhaps the most telling feature of this whole process has been that fact that the central feature of the reform – removing the tehsil tier and centralising power in the hands of city mayors and deputy mayors – has changed back and forth several times, often at the last minute without and explanation or reason. A completed 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 to the confusion of many.

Having a flexible attitude during a difficult reform process is commendable and even necessary, but the term that truly captures the government’s behavior at the moment is ‘indecision’. There seems to be no overarching idea which seems to be guiding the reform process, and the government is being pulled one way and then the other by various interests and stakeholders.

The laws that will govern the structure and functioning of the third tier of democracy in the most populous province of the country should not be left to make-shift happenstance – it should be built around research grounded in reality. The Punjab government must do better.