LAHORE -  Though the Punjab local government institution has crossed over the process of electing representatives at the basic tier, yet uncertainty still shrouds as to when the system will actually be functional.

Punjab, the biggest province with 65 per cent of the total population of the country, will be the last to have the local government system which has been dormant since October 2009. After three phases of the local government elections were completed from October 31 to December 5 last year, picture is yet foggy as to when the system would be operational to provide relief to the masses at the grass roots. Balochistan is the first in the race to have the LG system some two years ago followed by Khyber PK and Sindh. And the Punjab lags behind all while skeptic still mar the possibility of the system being put in place at the earliest for various reasons.

After delay of around one year the proceedings with electing members on reserved seats in Punjab was started from November 15 and completed on November 19. The announcement of the official results on these seats would be made later on. Schedule of the current phase of reserved seats elections has been going on since September but could not be implemented for various reasons including decision on certain judicial matters relating to the mode of holding polls at this tier of the system. In the final phase of the local government system office holders at the level of metropolitan corporation, municipal corporations, district councils, and municipal committees have to be held for which no schedule has so far been issued. Giving the past delay in completing the process, how long the final phase will take is anybody’s guess. The PML-N sources claim that the LG system in Punjab will be functional surely in January next yet doubts hover around these assertions as some other sources in the government quarters say, it may go beyond that time. As a matter of fact holding of elections on any phase of the LG system is the prerogative of the election commission yet many tools are available to the official and private hands to linger on a matter either through issuing ordinances, leading any matter relevant to the subject to the court or finding any other excuse of social and climate nature. However, the question is why should the Punjab government see the local governments taking further time when a better part of it has been finished?

PML-N city president and senior leader of the party Muhammad Pervez Malik told this scribe that after the notification of the newly-elected members on the reserved seats, a month or so would further take for the announcement of schedule for electing members on the top slots. As to compensating the time loss due to delay in completing the election process of the LG in Punjab when over half of the fiscal year would also have elapsed by the time LG would be operational, Pervez Malik said these all will be regularized through a legislative package. “This may also take time,” he said adding, if any lacuna existed in the system or need arose to more empower the institution, the package would address them all. “These steps for making the LG system stronger on footing, can take more time,” he added.

The Opposition parties in the Punjab Assembly find the answer in funds allocated for the LG system being used by chief minister on his discretion through the officialdom that has been taking care of the LG institution over the last seven years. The Opposition many times grumbled that the funds for development schemes that were to be completed through the local government representatives had been siphoned off to the Metro Train project of the city as such the government would prefer to linger on functioning the system to as close to the next budget as it would be possible. The Opposition blamed the government for intentionally avoiding operation of the LG as it had to displease the party legislators who are in the forefront in pinpointing the development projects and enjoying the funds at their disposal. So are the bureaucrats who enjoy the LG powers and use of funds sharing the benefits with the political figures.

The government side does not subscribe to the Opposition narrative, yet the party sources admit shortage of funds to meet the expenses of offices, allied paraphernalia and staff for the LG representatives. In the current phase of the election on reserved seats, the PML-N has emerged victorious bagging about 80 per cent of seats yet the party is up against difficulties in South Punjab where groups and bradery-backed candidates are still in a tug-of-war to earn the top slots. The situation is an inside problem of the party and taking time as party leadership ironing out the differences. Sources say the current situation primarily focuses on Panama and how to get out of it, and rest of the issues are of secondary nature but important matters are occupying mind of the government in Punjab which goes along with the centre.

Sources say most of the elected representatives of the party from the urban areas have been made busy through their association with the government development schemes at the local level, however, in the rural constituency, the situation is somewhat different and local members at this level are avid for the earliest operation of the system.

Sources say the nominee for the mayorship of the city is already engaged with the mega development schemes of the city as such the government is comfortable on this side and would not mind if extra time is taken to complete the institution.

Sources say in case the government needs more time to make LG system functional it may do it by making the system operational in phases on the pattern of the direct LG polls. If that course is adopted, the district wise allocation as observed in the LG direct polls, may be followed and the purpose may got served through an ordinance, they add.