LAHORE - First time in the history, provinces are going to have different systems of the local bodies contrary to the basic theme of the federal parliamentary democratic system which governs the country.
Excepting Balochistan where framing of the local bodies’ law is just at the incipient stage, rest of the three provinces have either adopted or are in the process of finalising the basic democratic setups which were previously not known to the country. The respective governments of PML-N in Punjab, PPP in Sindh and the PTI government in Khyber PK cherish the local government systems which suit their political ends more than consolidating the federation through uniformity and likeness of the LG system.
Under Article 140 of the Constitution, establishment of the local government is mandatory to devolve political, administrative and the financial authority to grassroots level to enable the people to get their problems solved through their own elected representatives. Under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, read with Charter of Democracy of 2006, local representatives were given wide powers to deal with the problems of the masses while parliamentarians were required to concentrate on the legislative matters more than indulging in the public dealing affairs.
This objective could be achieved well if all the provinces follow the same pattern to set the basic structure of the LG system which today is non-existent. Legal experts opine LG systems evolved on different patterns are bound to entail constitutional and legal complications in addition to producing centrifugal effect. It would create problems not only for the federal government but would also have negative political impact and problems in developing and cementing ties among the provinces. And given the current rigid stand of each province to assert superiority of its system, it is feared that LG elections will not be held as per directions of the Supreme Court or even in the current year.
Every province is pushing up its own LG system and most contentious point is whether the system should be raised through the party-based or non-party-based elections. Sindh and Khyber PK have announced to hold the LB elections on party basis while the PML-N government in Punjab is inclined to hold them on non-party basis though a decision to this effect has yet to be taken by the Punjab Assembly. PTI, and PPP and PML-Q have decided to resist legislation on non-party based elections with full force. In that case, a political complexity will erupt. Some reports suggest that the PTI government in Khyber PK wants to hold party-based elections at the upper tier of the system and non-party at the lower one. This sort of arrangement would compound the problem as Sindh will have full fledged party-based elections, Khyber PK half and the Punjab totally non-party-based.
All the three systems differ from one another in the composition of the bodies, representation of women, peasants, minorities, and youth. In Sindh, the urban-rural divide which the last controversial law envisaged has been dispensed with to a large extent, but the law has shifted power of the governor to appoint vice chancellors of the universities to the chief minister. In the other provinces, this authority still lies with the governor as ex-officio chancellors of the universities.
In the Punjab, the chief minister has a big say in taking disciplinary action against mayors and deputy mayors whereas these powers lie with the local government minister in Sindh. The system evolved in Khyber PK gives conspicuous representation to youth at every tier, but it is totally absent in the Punjab and partially present in Sindh. The provinces also differ from one another as far as representation of women and minorities is concerned. In the Punjab, administrative and financial control would be virtually in the hands of bureaucrats after restoration of the commissionary system as the local representatives will present their demands to them while in Khyber PK the local representatives have been given an upper hand and freedom in spending on public welfare projects. In this province all development projects at the lower level have been transferred to the local bodies. It indicates that legislators will face a big cut in their allocated development funds. However, in the Punjab, no cut has been made in the funds of the legislators. In Khyber PK it has been made mandatory for women electorates to vote for women candidates where local representatives have been given huge powers in promotion of education and health while in the Punjab separate elected authorities have been set up for both.
PML-N in its manifesto has clearly mentioned that in implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution the party government would ensure a uniform local government system. PML-N has also promised to develop consensus on the new local government system for optimum devolution and decentralisation of administrative and financial powers. It has also backed adequate representation to women and youth in the new system besides making arrangements for the provinces to learn from the experiences of each other.
The N-League visualises the LG system different from that established by the military rulers to carve out a civil constituency to prolong their stay. But to which extent the party ruling at the Centre succeeds in achieving this objective can be answered by the time only and that depends on how wisely the party acts to iron out differences on the LG systems.