LAHORE – Local bodies elections are around the corner but Punjab government has yet to finalise the transition exercise for changes in the district level system as per the newly passed law Punjab Local Government Act 2015.

Sources in the S&GAD told that the transition committee chaired by the Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) Mobashir Raza and a sub-committee met many times but the arrangements could not be finalized. They said that certain administrative and legal issues hindered the committee to proceed further. The committee is working to make the recommendations in consonance with the newly adopted law.

It is being proposed in the meetings that decentralization should be shunned giving more powers to the province rather the district governments. If this happens, the concept of devolution of powers would stand nowhere.

District Education and Health Authorities are being established with least role of the district governments. The powers enjoyed by the DCOs would be cut to size. The DC that would replace the office of DCO would less power, sources claimed.

A senior officer of the Local Government requesting anonymity said that there were no local governments in place and the DCOs were solely running the administrative affairs in their respective districts. “Now, after the PLGA 2015 adopted by the Punjab Assembly with certain amendments, the things will change. There should be clear recommendations of the committee about power distribution between the district administration and the elected setup led by district chairman,” he was of the view.

The committee had earlier reminded the administrative secretaries to expedite the exercise to identify the consequential amendments to be required in the respective laws in wake of repeal of PLGO 2001.

It is to be recalled that under the 2001 system, district governments were given responsibilities in agriculture, health, education, community development, information technology, finance and planning, together with revenue previously held by the provinces, and became financially competent through transferred funds and local taxes. Town/taluka governments (the middle tier) were assigned most of the functions of the former municipal authorities as the main providers of essential services like water, sanitation, roads and waste disposal.

The union councils (lowest/third tier) were envisaged as providing monitoring and oversight of service delivery, as well as undertaking small developmental projects.

Moreover under the 2001 ordinance, the District Coordination Officer (DCO) of the district government, equivalent to a chief executive officer, and district police officer were placed under the elected district Nazim.

The planning system was de-centralised and development funds were distributed to districts and identification, appraisal, and approval of development projects had become subject of local priorities.

But after the founder of the system stepped down, in 2009 the de-centralization agenda faltered. After the general elections of 2008, the civilian government came into power and failed to maintain local government institutions because no elections could be staged since then.

Later, on the orders of the apex court, the Punjab government announced elections for the local bodies expected to be held on 31th October and introduced a new system by amending the law and PLGA 2013 was passed.

The new system is said to be the amalgam of 1979 and 2001 systems. Many of the powers earlier devolved from the province were again retrieved thus weakening the devolution plan of 2001. Health and education departments under the newly established district authorities would be entirely local subjects.