LAHORE -  The Punjab government has finalised a draft for fully empowering the local government heads administratively and financially.

The PML-N government, which holds sway over one metropolitan, 10 municipal committees and 33 of 34 district councils, has prepared a comprehensive scheme to give administrative authorities and more financial autonomy to the LG heads in terms of collection of revenue and their utilisation at their own discretion without seeking approval of the committee at their top. At the level of union council, a ratio of money is being fixed for spending at discretion to meet the immediate needs while the amount would go on rising with the higher tier at the local government level.

Punjab Local Government Minister Mansha Ullah Butt told this scribe that a package had been prepared to grant more administrative and financial powers to the LG representatives. The package would be announced within a couple of next days, he said, adding the LG powers would also include a part of those relating to education and health departments, which, in the existing act, are the sole prerogatives of the authorities constituted for this purpose. Besides giving representation to the LG representatives in these authorities, a mode is being set to place problems in health and education sectors at UC level before the authorities on fast track, he added.

The minister said certain powers which hitherto had been under the control of the municipal authorities like LDA and Wasa were also being delegated to the LGs. He stated although solid waste management system was nicely working in the province, the LGs were also being involved therein to secure even a better cleanliness system.

The minister said if necessity arose, legislation would also be carried out to meet the purpose. He said strengthening the LG system was PML-N’s priority. “The government has earmarked Rs 390 billion for the LGs, which is 40 percent higher that approved in the budget,” he averred.

It may be mentioned that implementation of Article 140A of the Constitution in letter and spirit requires devolution of all powers to local level to address the masses’ grievances at their doorsteps in a speedy way. At the Punjab level, improvisation is continuing in the Local Government Act 2013 and after election the CM had announced to give the LGs institution more powers so that the local representatives could serve the masses wholeheartedly.

Many powers under various sections of the LDA Act of 1975 that were to be devolved to local representatives are still retained by the authority and this fact was also noted by the Lahore High Court in 2015 while deciding the case of signal-free corridors in the city.

In the opinion of the experts, it is not only the Punjab but also other provinces where all vital powers of the LG system are still being exercised by the respective chief ministers who are empowered to suspend operation of the LG system for a certain period and could even dissolve it in the event of general elections, which is a big anomaly. In the Punjab, a 12-member committee, chaired by the finance minister, decides the financial resources for the LGs from the Provincial Financial Commission and this body is without any representation from the LG although it contains two MPAs form the opposition side.

Among other powers, the metropolitan corporation in the Punjab is authorised to impose tax on the transfer of immovable properties, installation of billboards for advertisements and determine water and drainage rates etc. while the UCs are authorised to charge fees over issuance/registration of birth and death certificates, taxes on theatres and dramas, parking fees, transfer of property, building construction planning and toll tax, apart from recommending construction of roads, streets, streetlights and other development schemes in their respective jurisdictions.

The district councils, among others, have been empowered to determine tax rate for cattle markets, brick kilns etc and to regulate their working in addition to planning and construction of public buildings, playgrounds etc.

The metropolitan corporation has also been made responsible to implement the relevant law and execute schemes of mass transit, public transport, market tax, public, expressways, flyovers, anti-pollution, planning and engineering etc.