One thing on which the regime of former President Pervez Musharraf prided itself most was the so-called Devolution of Power Plan, first announced in March 2000 and then with some changes and modifications launched from early 2001. The existing Local Government (LG) institutions are (re) constituted on the basis of principles that underlay the Plan. These principles were: devolution, decentralisation of authority, diffusion of powers, decontrol and provision of services at the doorstep of the people. The linchpin of the system, however, is District Nazim, who is supposed to provide both administrative and political leadership to the District Government comprising Naib (Deputy) Nazim, elected council and administrative heads of various departments in the district. The new system marked a radical departure from the traditional system of local government in Pakistan as it placed the district administration directly under the authority of elected political leadership-something the British had assiduously avoided to maintain the non-political character of the administration. The Plan was the capstone of the entire scheme chartered by the former military ruler of Pakistan to reconstruct the polity of the Pakistan according to his world view. However, the new system earned the ire of the political parties from the very beginning on the ground that it undermined provincial autonomy and sought to create a new constituency for Musharraf. Although almost all the political parties have long standing commitment, as is evident from their election manifestos, to reform the old system of Local Government inherited from the British, they vowed to scrap the system introduced by the previous regime under the Devolution of Power Plan as it was imposed from up. No wonder, as soon as the new dispensations took over in the centre and all the four provinces of the country following the February elections, steps have been initiated to change if not altogether scrap the existing LG system. As a first step, the office of Divisional Commissioner has been revived and all the DCOs, EDOs and TMOs are being asked by the provincial administration to cooperate with the Divisional Commissioners to make the revival of the new cadre a success. In another development, National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB), the federal think tank, which fathered the new system has recommended the revival of executive magistracy in the districts and also amendments in the LG Ordinance 2001 and Police Ordinance 2002. According to reports NRB has suggested to the federal government to entrust the task of the executive district officer (magistracy) to a suitable officer in the district and confer upon him the powers of the magistrate first class in addition to his own duties. More steps of the similar nature might be on the anvil to address the perceived deficiencies in the existing LG system. But before further changes are implemented, a word of caution seems necessary to be conveyed to the new political managers and policy makers of the country. The reforms package should at no cost lead to the reversal of the present system to the old one. There are two reasons why it should not be the case. First, the old system under the 1979 LG Ordinance had three major drawbacks: One, it worked under the complete dominance of bureaucracy at divisional, district and tehsil levels. Even a deputy secretary could suspend a municipal corporation or district council. In districts, the deputy commissioner controlled all the development activities and the district councils were left with little work to do except organising the cattle fairs or making arrangement for the welcome ceremonies of the ministers or mobilising the people for the political rallies. As a result, the local governments seriously faulted on their basic function i.e. the provision of services to the local people. Two, the LG institutions had no power of taxation and very little resources were at their disposal. As a consequence, the LG institutions under the old system were unable to undertake the development work. Three, having no original jurisdiction and working under the authority delegated by the provincial government, the old system was susceptible to political manipulation by the provincial governments. There were instances in which the local government institutions, including municipal corporations, were suspended/dissolved on the political grounds. Allegations of discrimination in the allocation of funds among the LG institutions on the basis of party affiliation were not uncommon during the period of 1980s and 1990s. People still remember how a provincial government utilised LG funds to run the advertisement campaign in its confrontation with the then federal government. Local government is a provincial subject and it will have to function within the framework of the provincial government but it must avoid the wrong practices with which the system was associated in the past. Second, there are certain good features of the new system and they must be retained. For example, the process for the approval, implementation and allocation of funds for the development projects was considerably cut short by investing the LG institutions with the decision making powers. This has led to the acceleration of the development process under the district governments. Another notable feature of the existing system is the expansion of female and minority representation in the LG institutions. These are the two segments of our population, which have always remained marginalised and under-represented. The motive behind the decision to enlarge their representation was to empower them so that they can play constructive role in the community development process. For these features, the new system had attracted worldwide attention and won appreciation by the international donor agencies, which provided financial and technical support for the capacity building of these institutions. The existing system is now about eight years old. The nation has invested a lot of resources in the system, which is supposed to be the nurseries of democracy and vehicle for the resolution of local problems at local level with the participation of local people. The LG system in the present form was designed to provide the services to the people at their doorstep. If an appreciable and tangible movement has been achieved in that direction, then, the system deserves to be retained with some necessary changes and modification. As it was observed in a seminar held in Islamabad recently to disseminate and discuss the findings of a USAID funded national survey conducted under Districts That Work (DTW) project on Citizen's Perceptions and References on the Local Government, majority of the citizens believe the existing system has the potential of improvement in the area of service delivery. The citizens are critical of the government at all levels; but they are less critical of the performance of local government institutions, although they also report numerous problems with coverage and quality of services provided by the local governments. Despite the finding that a vast majority of the people are not satisfied with the services provided by the local governments, there is an overwhelming support for maintaining control over service delivery in the local governments in areas like education, health, water, drainage and garbage disposal. Only a small minority support federal or provincial control. On the basis of this finding the survey reached the conclusion that people do not want the system to be rolled back. Thus, without rolling back, the new system can be reformed to become more efficient in fulfilling its basic function of providing services to the people at their doorstep. The writer is senior research fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Islamabad. E-mail: