ISLAMABAD  -   Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Monday that powers would be devolved to grass-roots through two-tiered elections in Punjab.

Talking to senior journalists, he said elections for local governments would be held directly in two tiers – at village council or panchayat level and at tehsil level. Flanked by Punjab and KP CMs Usman Buzdar and Mehmood Khan, former PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen and others, the PM said funds would directly be transferred to village councils and tehsil nazims that would financially empower locals to decide development projects.

He said tehsil nazims can coordinate and choose a representative at district level. The prime minister said that during PTI’s last term in KP, it had formed councils in villages, which were "very popular among the people", and the same "system will now be introduced in Punjab". Imran said: “Rs140 billion will be allocated for local bodies in Punjab. This is the first time that a government was devolving power.”

Imran Khan said 22,000 panchayats or village councils would be set up. He said Rs40 billion was allocated for villages, which will be passed down directly to village councillor so that they do not have to wait for federal or provincial governments to secure development funds.

“When military governments were in power, they had focused on municipalities. On the other hand, democratic governments put an end to municipalities and gave the money supposed to be spent on development to MNAs and MPAs,” he said. He said this direct election will bring forth new leadership.

The PM said in urban centres, mayors would be directly elected, and they would collect revenue to improve the condition of cities. He said the new local bodies system would empower city mayors to collect revenue and spend it on public welfare. He said Karachi, Lahore and other urban cities in Pakistan could not be developed because they could not generate enough revenue.

Prime Minister Imran cited Tehran's example, where he said “management had not been affected despite sanctions because of a strong local government system”. The premier did not specify the taxation authority, but said "if cities cannot collect taxes, the local government system will not be viable."  He said a mayor can bring his own team of professionals to improve civic facilities.

The premier rubbished the notion that the introduction of local governments was a step towards a presidential system of government, and said: "I don't know where these rumours are coming from."

He said PTI government was not bringing any presidential system. "Our government's number one priority is to hand over governance to people."All over the world, local bodies govern on a grassroots level." The PM said: "MNAs and MPAs are not handed over development funds anywhere in the world.”  He admitted that the system will be resisted even from within his party but declared “change is only successful when you defeat vested interests”.