The modern system of democracy has its roots embedded in the ideas of renaissance, with concepts like the social contract by Rousseau and separation of powers given by Montesquieu serving as its bedrock. Over time, many variations in structure and outlook of democracy have been witnessed. One of these, considered to be the most delegated organization of self-rule, local governments, has found credible standing ground in a praetorian-democracy like Pakistan.

Pakistan introduced a quasi-local government system as early as 1959, through Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies. Even so, remnants of a colonial past proved to be an abstract hurdle in the way of this endeavor. The country continued its tradition of trial and error, introducing Local Government Orders of 1979 under Zia, Local Government Ordinance 2001 under Musharraf and finally the Local Government Acts of 2013 as a consequence of the 18th Amendment.

The uniqueness, or irony, of Pakistan is that all such setups were introduced by non-democratic military dictators, in an effort to trigger their own legitimization. Nevertheless, the current civilian government, under pressure from the Supreme Court, did conduct the local government elections. However, since the elections and subsequent oath takings of mayors and chairmen, no significant working of this third and most important tier of government has been witnessed by the public.

The ineffectiveness and impotence of the district level official actors, under the local government plan may be attributed to various structural and procedural factors. These range from anomalies in fiscal distribution to the clash between governmental stakeholders in devolution of actual authority. It is no secret that every attempt to introduce local governments has been met with fierce resistance from the bureaucracy, especially by the District Management Group and the Police Service of Pakistan, who claim superiority over the district administration as a backdrop of their colonial legacy.

The major bone of contention in this power struggle at the district level is the status of Chief Executive of the district, which previously was held by the Deputy Commissioner, but has now been given to the Nazim under the new devolution plan. This is a tussle of who faces whom in matters of protocol on one side, and a dynamic confusion pertaining to the separation of administrative powers on the other. According to the Article 33 of Police Order 2002, it is explicitly stated that district Nazims have nothing to do with internal administration and investigation, but many of them did overstep their jurisdiction.

Whereas, in the Criminal Procedure Code Article 10, Chapter II, the District Magistrate or the Deputy Commissioner occupies dual position; he is the Chief Executive, Incharge of the administration of the District and as Magistrate of the First Class, he may exercise the powers conferred upon him. However, in Punjab government ROB, Article 5 D, Nazim has the powers to call for any case or information from any district office and the District Coordinating Officer has exactly the same power according to Article 6 C, of the same document.

This particular example is the epitome of many paradoxes and ambiguities that lie in the rules and regulations governing district officers. There is an immediate need to revisit the Criminal Procedure Code, the Rules of Business and the Police Order 2002 in order to mitigate their differences and to pacify the inter-agency and inter-departmental rivalries.

Moreover, sensitization of the district administration with their respective roles and duties is necessary, which has to be clarified by dedicating municipal powers to the Nazim, administrative powers to the DC and policing powers to the Superintendent of Police. Rationally, there should not be a clash between the three offices on matters of superiority; rather the purpose of their existence, the very notion of public service, should be upheld.

Another major impediment in effective working of local governments is the absence of a systematic fiscal decentralization policy, which is the hallmark of any local government in the world. Although the 2013 devolution plan introduced a Provincial Financial Commission award, it also gave the district councils some autonomy in levying taxes on immovable assets like billboards, etc. Practical application of any of these powers is yet to be seen, which serves as an opaque symptom for the ineffectiveness of this fiscal devolution.

Keeping in view the bounded rationality surrounding this situation, the only way forward, in the foreseeable future would be, firstly to let this setup work in its original form, supplemented by a continuous impact-based evaluation. Secondly, to take up the various connotations of this system to the legislative front and address the legal limitations and bottlenecks towards operationalization of local governments.

Living in a country that has a dying Lord Macaulay system, which created a breed and class of people who think and act in that way, the new generation is surrounded by a façade. The media has created enlightenment, whereby the post-colonial generation doesn’t accept colonial rules and statutes in their original form. Moreover, the cosmetic changes made by rulers and dictators have only made things worse and the society as a whole is yet to find a right path and course to move forward.

To uphold the tradition and culture of democracy in its true letter and spirit, the government along with its functionaries has to realize and concede to the narrative, that they are elected and selected primarily for the provision of “public-service” which is often misinterpreted as “self-service” by the ruling elite.