Prime Minister Imran Khan’s thirty-minute briefing about the new local government system to be introduced in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was both illuminating and reflective of his support for the overall project. With an internal party struggle in motion and opinion against Jahangir Tareen polarised in the leadership circles of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the Prime Minister’s endorsement of what many see to be Mr Tareen’s intellectual vision in the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 might help dispel some doubts of the latter’s place in the hierarchy of the ruling party.

The law itself, while significantly different from the one it is replacing, might just be a very positive step in the development of both provinces in terms of removing pre-existing concentration in both the disbursement of funds and development. Under the new two-tiered system, village councils will be formed with members of the council elected through non-party elections. Bigger towns and cities are to have tehsil councils with direct elections for the tehsil nazim under party banners. Major cities will have elected mayors that are to look after all the affairs of the area under their jurisdiction, ranging from sanitation to revenue collection. Much will rest on the revenue collection aspect of running a city under the new law, with massive cities like Karachi and Lahore, the mayor will be representing tens of millions of people and it is hoped that local leadership can find ways to cater to all members of the populace equitably.

The most salient point however, relates to the disbursement of funds, which will no longer lie in the hands of MNAs and MPAs but will be made available to village councils and tehsils through the councillor and nazim respectively. This is a positive step; too long have the MNAs gained political favour and votes through strategic spending, but with the announcement of Rs140 billion being made available for the Punjab local governments, the provincial and federal governments will still need to ensure that spending is transparent and the money does not bleed out through mismanagement or corruption.

Chopping and changing the local government system with each passing government has been a staple of Pakistan’s history. It can only be hoped that this new model sticks, given its many positives, and is executed in a way which makes it incontestable for future governments. The success of this system depends a lot on the local government leadership that comes about through the elections; the government must now provide a definitive timetable of when we can expect to see them take place and the only way for this system to be accepted in its entirety is if the government ensures that any franchise held is both free and fair.