LAHORE: Punjab Local Government and Community Development Department has introduced Human

Resource Management Information (HRMI) System to improve governance. In this regard, a meeting was held at Civil Secretariat here on Tuesday which was chaired by Secretary Local Government Ahmed Javed Qazi. In the meeting, it was stated that after the introduction of this system in the department, the attendance and work of every employee in the office would be monitored. Various aspects of HRMI System were discussed in the meeting. The secretary said that the HRMI System would improve decision making and efficiency in departmental affairs. He said that the data of all the employees of the department had been computerised and soon the system will be introduced in the province with the help of Punjab Information Technology Board. He said that after Baldiaonline app, HRMI system would also help the department to adapt to the modern requirements of digitisation with the main objective of making the department more useful and efficient for the public.

After inflicting irreparable loss to the economy and development plans, COVID-19 has another new victim in its sights. The unfortunate victim is no other but the Punjab Local Government (LG) elections 2020. Nobody knows whether arrangements of elections may take place or ominousness will loom large. Even the government is not completely sure about holding the polls, and hence failed to set an exact date for Punjab LG elections 2020.

The pandemic has been overshadowing the fate of the LG polls since the onset of the year. From March till date, when the lockdown came into effect, coronavirus has clinched first place on the top priority list. The rest of the things, all macro and micro responsibilities have taken a back seat. The virus’s devastation is so sudden and widespread that it did not let the government keep its focus intact and compelled the democratic system to compromise on the local government elections.

Funds that were supposed to be spent on various development schemes have been diverted to fight COVID-19 and its catastrophic implications. As per experts, SARS-CoV-2 has eroded more than 50 percent of government funds dedicated to multiple public service works. Meanwhile, most of the 2020-21 budget allocations have also pivoted on neutralising coronavirus.

The polls were supposed to be held in June 2020. They have now been deferred till the end of 2020. However, a specific deadline has not been given.

On April 30, 2019, the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab passed two pieces of legislation: the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 (PLGA-19) and the Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Act 2019 (VP&NCA-19). Both pieces of legislation entered into force with their notification in the Punjab Gazette on May 4, 2019. On the same day, existing local governments constituted under the PLGA-13 were dissolved by Government Notification No. SOR(LG)38-34/2018 and replaced by administrators from the civil administration. Both acts envisage a transition period of up to 12 months between the previous and the new system, and local elections were likely to be held in mid-2020. However, it proved to be a pie in the sky.

The failure of the government to hold local bodies’ elections is in violation of the Elections Act, 2017, according to which fresh elections should be conducted within 120 days after dissolution of the last setup.

Section 219 (4) of the Elections Act, 2017 states that the Commission (Election Commission of Pakistan) shall hold elections for the local governments within 120 days of the expiry of the term of the local governments of a province, cantonment and Islamabad capital territory.

It is also a violation of Article 140-A of the Constitution that stated “each province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.

Local governments have a substantial impact on people’s lives. Most residents are aware that their local government is responsible for local services from parks and gardens to waste management and recycling, from building approvals to libraries, from childcare to public health, from parking to economic development, from aged care to roads maintenance, and much more.

Local governments not only provide these services but are responsible for identifying and pursuing the many other distinct needs of their community, and for ensuring that state and Commonwealth policies affecting their communities make proper allowance for their local needs.

It is encouraging that Prime Minister Imran Khan has shown his keen interest in holding the Punjab LG polls as soon as possible. After he directed CM Punjab Usman Buzdar to do the needful in line with direction of the Election Commission of Pakistan, the local government department has submitted the all required documents to ECP.

The Punjab government has framed rules for delimitations of constituencies for neighbourhood councils and Village Punchayats under the Local Government Act, 2019.

Authorities believe that a major obstacle in the way of holding local government elections this year has been removed after enactment of these rules.

According to the new rules, the Election Commission will constitute district delimitation authorities in all districts of the province comprising civil servants and members from the Election Commission and the judiciary.

The judicial officers will be inducted in the authorities in consultation with the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court. The district authorities will supervise the whole process of delimitations in accordance with the set rules. The rules regarding delimitations have been sent to the Election Commission to proceed further on the subject matter.

The delay in local bodies elections is not without consequences. The setup has a critical function to perform in a representative democracy. Local governments (LG) ensure grassroots penetration of power, decision-making and resources, which is necessary to successfully manage affairs at the district, tehsil and village levels. As per law, at least 30 percent of the provincial development budget is to be handed over to local government to be utilised for various schemes, continuing and new.

For the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), that brings the number to Rs 46bn, out of which only Rs 3bn were released. The KP finance minister has defended this decision by pointing out that the tenure of local government councils has expired, and elections delayed till April 2021. Perhaps it is important to point out here that despite several reminders by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the provincial governments including that of KP failed to cooperate with the ECP and complete preparations for holding timely LG elections. As per the law, they were supposed to have taken place within 120 days of the expiry of tenure of previous LG. Yet again, power that should reside in the hands of peoples’ elected representatives, has been returned to bureaucrats, who are to exercise it directly with the blessing of Peshawar.

Despite excellent examples to learn from across the world, the Pakistani political elite refuses to relinquish control and devolve power to local level. The colonial mindset of ruling through the bureaucracy continues to prevail. The courts should not have to intervene each time to make politicians fulfil their constitutional duties. The sorry state of affairs brought on by decades of poor governance and political expediency should finally prompt change without which the system is bound to underperform and even fail. The billions in funds that will either remain unspent or be spent by bureaucrats are critical for the impoverished masses of the province. Someone should be held accountable for this grave injustice.

RAWALPINDI: 

The District Election Commission has completed preparations for conducting fresh delimitations for 15 local bodies in the Rawalpindi district.

Officials at the District Election Commission Office in Rawalpindi on Monday said that they may start the new delimitation process this week. They further said that the committees which will carry out the delimitation exercise have been formed.

They added that a final list for the delimitated local body seats will be released on October 13.

In this regard, they said that the Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner’s Office has provided them with maps – including revenue circles, and other records of all local bodies of the district.

The local bodies in Punjab were dissolved two-and-a-half years ahead of their constitutional terms while district officials were handed the responsibility of administrators in the new system of neighbourhood and village councils.

Subsequently, the DC office had facilitated the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by providing them with a list of all the old union councils in the district and other details including demarcation of revenue circles and population statistics. The ECP will now start delimitation for the new system of the metropolitan corporation, seven tehsil councils, six municipal committees and a town committee.

The defunct Rawalpindi Metropolitan Corporation had 46 union councils. But now, 24 councils from the rural areas will be added in the new district council, increasing the number of seats to 70.

However, this means that Rawalpindi has become smaller while Gujjar Khan has become the largest tehsil council in the district.

KARACHI – Sindh Minister for Local Government (LG) Nasir Hussain Shah and Minister Education Saeed Ghani chaired pre moon soon meeting on Monday.

The meeting was attended by Mayor Karachi Waseem Akhter, Secretary LG Roshan Ali Shaikh, MD Solid Waste Kashif Gulzar Shaikh, Special Secretary Technical LG Mohammad Taha and PD CLICK Zubair Channa. Addressing the participants of meeting Nasir Shah said that on the instructions of Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah the Sindh government has especially decided to clear the rain Nullahs before the start of season.

Minister said that Government of Sindh wishes to see the local government system stronger and Sindh government will fully support  the Mayor of the province to continue the development works.

Minister Local Government said that Mayor Karachi shall lead the task of clearing Nullahs as KWSB and SWMB will be assisting KMC in order to accomplish the assignment, “Government of Sindh will not only provide financial and administrative support to KMC but will help them to remove the encroachers from various Nallahas.

Our complete and continous support is with Mayor Karachi for every constructive work for the citizens of Karachi”.

Nasir Shah said that he has told all the administrative heads to send their request and requirements for taking the preventive measures before the raining season and all the Municipal Commissioners have been directed to not to leave the head quarters without the prior approval from the respective Mayor.Minister also instructed MD Water Board to not to allow sort of work of PWD without his permission.

On the occasion Saeed Ghani said that the cleaning of Nallahs shall be the responsibility of the contractors who are performing the development works.

PESHAWAR: The auditor general of Pakistan has raised serious objections over the lack of transparency in the funds the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government had released to local bodies during the last two years.

The auditor general has warned about giving up all financial matters to protest the failure of the finance department to compile financial records of the provincial local government department.

The AG office also expressed concern over the funds transferred to the accounts of district governments this year and directed the KP Finance Ministry to clarify its position as soon as possible.

A total of Rs29.34 billion were allocated for the local bodies in the financial year 2018-19, out of which Rs14.84 billion had been released as development funds. This year too, more than Rs2 billion have been released to the local governments by the finance department despite the fact that the tenure of local government had expired on August 28, 2019, and no proper record of the amount had been provided to the AG Office.

A letter sent to the KP government by the auditor general said that a comprehensive report on the accounts of tehsil, village and neighborhood councils for the financial year 2018-19 had not been provided so far, adding that the expenditure report was not properly compiled either.

The auditor general said that the audit objections on local governments regarding financial expenditures are serious and almost one year old but no serious steps had been taken to address these objections.

According to the AG Office, the financial record had not been provided this year as was the case in the previous financial year and such irregularities were causing embarrassment to the KP government.

The auditor general also expressed concern over the transfer of funds to the district governments in the current financial year, saying that the term of all the local bodies had expired on August 28, 2019, and while enacting legislation, the provincial government had abolished the district tier of the local bodies and only tehsil, village and neighborhood councils were included. However, the provincial government was releasing funds to the district governments in the same manner, the auditor general observed.

Sources in finance department said that the procedure for compiling financial records as defined under the Local Government Act, 2013, was still being used as no new financial and accounting rules had been formulated since the law was amended last year.

Sources further said that the finance department has summoned local government department officials and all other partners to take them into confidence and were informed about the objections raised by the auditor general. The local government department officials said that immediate steps would be taken to remove the objections of the AG Office.

MANSEHRA: The Local Government and Rural Development Department has computerised records of all 194 village and neighbourhood councils.

“This is a milestone and now one can check even budgetary allocations and spending online,” Assistant Director Local Government and Rural Development Department Asar Khan told reporters here on Wednesday.

He said that records of entire villages and neighbourhood councils were also linked with the deputy commissioner office, which would expedite working situation.The assistant director said that spray was being carried out at mosques across the district as a precautionary measure to contain spread of Covid-19.

The Punjab government has implemented a new Local Government system in the province. According to media reports, all Union Councils (UCs) in Punjab have been dissolved and the UC offices have been named as field offices. Furthermore, the union council employees have been directed to report back to their parent departments. PM Imran Khan had said in Nov 2019 that the new system will empower the Local Governments from ground up and also announced to hold Local Government elections within few months.

Out of court In passing the Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill, 2017, the National Assembly is trying to codify – and hopefully improve – a system that is already in wide practice informally. In theory, ADRs are meant to arbitrate disputes in a speedier and less expensive manner than regular courts. They have the added benefit, especially applicable in Pakistan, of unclogging an overburdened judicial system. The ADR bill, which had the support – with some reservations – of the opposition parties, will introduce compulsory arbitration for 23 different civil and criminal matters, including land disputes, marriage dissolution and commercial issues like patent disputes. In addition, both parties can agree to seek to resolve their issues through the ADR. All disputes will be settled by a panel of ‘neutrals’ appointed by the government in consultation with the high courts, which should ensure that such cases are handled in a professional manner. The PPP had proposed setting aside seats for women in the panel, which would guard against the ADR Bill being used the way jirgas and panchayats are, where women are handed down ‘punishments’ like gang rape and treated as little more than the disposable property of the men in their families and tribes. The PPP’s suggestion should be taken up as an amendment to the bill. There is also no right to appeal the decisions of the panel, which could end up undermining the bill should they end up giving verdicts that do not honour the letter and spirit of the law. The most important function of the ADR Bill may be to bring a semblance of order to the unregulated jirga and panchayat systems. Right now, such alternatives to regular courts are widely used but they often hand out verdicts that contravene the constitution and the criminal code. But the only way the ADR Bill will be able to do this is if the government ensures it picks only qualified people to serve on the panel, limits the use of the panel only to the issues mentioned in the bill and makes sure that people are not coerced into going for the panels by those who wish to evade justice in the courts. The adoption of the ADR Bill should be accompanied by a renewed focus on cracking down on illegal jirgas. The law’s credibility will be shattered if jirgas continue to hand down the inhumane and barbaric verdicts they have become notorious for. There is an urgent need to unclog the judicial system and this bill could help but, as with most matters, its success will be entirely dependent on enforcement.

A PROCESS, dragged out for two years, is nearing conclusion as Punjab becomes the fourth and final province to instal elected local governments at the district and sub-district levels. Elections for mayor and chairperson slots held in December provide ample confirmation of the PML-N’s dominant position in the province: Lahore plus all 10 municipal corporations will have PML-N mayors. Preliminary results show 33 district councils out of 35 electing a PML-N chairperson, with only Pakpattan and Attock falling to independent candidates backed by opposition parties. Out of the 171 small towns known as municipal committees, 106 were won by PML-N, and another 46 by independent candidates who are affiliated with the party in some form or the other. The PTI’s haul, on the other hand, was restricted to 13, with Toba Tek Singh being the only victory of note. Installing trust in local governments and building their institutional capacity to deliver has to start at some point. In view of this upcoming transition, the Punjab government has worked out a civil administration ordinance that, in combination with the local government act, will change the shape of district-based governance. Early reports point to a concentration of power in the revived office of the deputy commissioner, who will act as the provincial government’s representative in the district. Essentially, the two laws combined will create two parallel bureaucracies: one controlled by the province and the other — headed by a ‘chief officer’ — by the elected local government. A preliminary analysis of the laws suggests it will be the former that controls integral spheres of financial management and local development. There are some points of contention still being ironed out. High-ranking police officers are resisting proposals to increase the district bureaucracy’s control over local policing, while the issue of reviving judicial functions of DCs faces a number of legal hurdles. Nonetheless, whatever shape the final set-up takes, there is little doubt that the provincial government, and in particular the chief minister’s office, will continue to wield excessive executive authority at the district level. The drive to centralise authority at the provincial tier and resist substantive devolution — wherein local councils would wield greater executive control and oversight over their geographical areas — is a symptom of the PML-N’s politics. That this drive continues to flourish despite the party’s resounding electoral success points to deeper issues in the leadership’s psyche and its political vision. Before delving into a critique, it is pertinent to mention that a (mildly) reasonable case for this tendency to centralise and bureaucratise executive authority does exist. Shahbaz Sharif’s entire political persona, and by corollary, the PML-N’s success amongst urban voters, is built on the idea of ‘delivering’. Whether it’s an infrastructure project or an immunisation drive, the Punjab government’s publicised dynamism is what distinguishes it from other provincial governments (and parties). Thus, a centralised approach, built on a small team of political leaders and bureaucrats overseeing everything from assessment to planning to execution, works well for this project-based idea of governance. With China’s expanding footprint on local development work, the need for project-based governance has grown even more. To make ‘Punjab speed’ work, institutional layers need to be removed and the capacity to deliver has to be implanted from above. In this calculus, a district council or a municipal corporation overseeing a historically under-resourced and low-capacity local bureaucracy is viewed as a major hindrance. I am somewhat sympathetic to this line of reasoning in so far that issues of capacity at all stages (planning, assessment, and delivery) do plague district-based bureaucracies. Local councils offer the potential to make optimal decisions on allocation of resources, but in many cases they are merely used for small-scale targeting of patronage. The persisting problem of capacity is one that can only be resolved over time, something which many political governments feel they don’t have in ample amounts. This is also partly why military regimes, which operate with longer time-horizons and are more secure in their political positions, prefer to gain political legitimacy through devolution. Nonetheless, installing trust in local governments and building their institutional capacity to deliver on a shared development vision has to start at some point. Project-based delivery will fall short in both development terms and on the political front. Health and education, for example, are both governance-based problems that cannot be resolved at ‘Punjab speed’. They require an improvement in institutions and accountability mechanisms, which means investing in the capacities of line departments and their partners at the local level. Centralising authority and creating ad hoc governing arrangements will only act as disabling factors in the long run. Secondly, of greater concern for the party should be risks associated with a change in its political fortunes. Today, the PML-N’s leadership in Punjab is undercutting thousands of its own elected individuals because it knows the cost of doing so is quite low. By centralising authority, it can deliver on a number of selected fronts and win the next election. Those elected to district councils and municipal corporations will twiddle thumbs and fight over paltry funds because they have no other option. They can’t alienate the leadership because there are plenty waiting to take their place and toe the leadership line. They can’t jump ship either, because the political opposition is fragmented and the ruling party’s brand is still very popular with the voters. If, at some point in the future, a grand alliance between the PTI and PPP puts up a tougher fight, the PML-N will find itself in the unhealthy situation of having alienated and ignored its own elected membership at the grass-roots level. As opposition parties become plausible alternatives, local politicians will look elsewhere for greater control over their own jurisdictions. It remains to be seen whether the opposition can raise the costs for the government’s decision of choosing short-term delivery over long-run stability. The writer is a freelance columnist.

LOCAL governments are important for the entire country but carry special significance for the largest province in the federation — Punjab. Although a certain degree of scepticism surrounds the advent of the new era of elected LGs after a gap of some eight years, the completion of the last phase of LG elections in Punjab on Dec 22 offers a chance to make a fresh beginning. According to 2015 estimates, Punjab has a population of around 101 million. If Punjab was a country, it would rank as the 12th most populous country in the world with all European and African and most Asian and Latin American countries ranking below it. Despite the quality of governance being relatively better because of a variety of reasons, there are ample signs that a province as diverse and large as Punjab, despite all the energy of the incumbent chief minister, cannot continue to be efficiently run on the basis of a centralised model of governance. For a number of years south Punjab has been sending soft but unmistakably clear signals that it is not happy with the current state of affairs. There has been a persistent demand for a separate Seraiki province and a province consisting of the former Bahawalpur state. The former Punjab Assembly passed resolutions to this effect too and many political parties including the PPP not only support these demands, but have also organised their parties along the lines of south and north Punjab. Decentralisation is the key sentiment behind the demands for division of Punjab. Irrespective of the merits of the creation of new provinces in Punjab, an effective LG system with real devolution of political, administrative and financial powers and responsibilities and in the true spirit of Article 140-A of the Constitution may be able to address many, if not all, grievances of not only south Punjab but also all such far-flung districts that feel central Punjab or Lahore receives all or most of the attention of the provincial government. A centralised model of governance cannot work for a province as diverse and large as Punjab. Across the world in general, and Pakistan in particular, parting with powers and devolving them to the local level has always been the hardest aspect of creating effective LGs. Provincial governments in Pakistan have resisted the revival of elected LGs since the last ones ceased to exist in 2009. While the cause of democracy and good governance is served by dispersing authority, in fact creating multiple centres of power, the trend in developing societies has been to accumulate power in a few hands. It took a persistent and assertive Supreme Court to make the reluctant provincial governments take steps to operationalise Article 140-A of the Constitution which calls for the establishment of LGs with devolved political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority. Whether or not sweeping of the election of LG heads by the PML-N, the current ruling party in Punjab, will make it easy for the provincial government to devolve powers to the new LGs remains to be seen. If Punjab is able to bite the bullet and succeeds in creating empowered LGs, it will usher in a new phase of deepened democracy and better governance in the province. Over the years, Punjab has created some formidable ‘authorities’ controlled by the provincial government and it is in the process of creating some more which may significantly dilute the powers of the LGs. For example, the Lahore High Court, in its judgement of April 2015 in the Lahore signal-free corridor case discussed at length the powers of the Lahore Development Authority and found that several sections of the LDA Act, 1975, either partly or fully, “‘usurp, trump, encroach, dilute and abridge the powers, responsibility and authority devolved to the elected representatives of the Local Government System under Article 140A through the Punjab Local Government Act” and therefore, declared these ultra vires to Articles 9, 14, 17 and 25 and offensive to Articles 32, 37(i) and 140A of the Constitution. Although the operative part of the judgement which suspended the execution of the signal-free corridor was reversed by a subsequent Supreme Court order, the scholarly discourse on the significance, powers and sanctity of the LGs contained in the detailed judgement should be carefully studied by the federal government and all the provincial governments in Pakistan. In fact, this judgement should be made a part of the compulsory reading by all LG heads. Under the Punjab Local Government Act, 2013, district education authorities and district health authorities are to be established whose chairmen and CEOs will be appointed by the provincial government. Apparently, these authorities may undercut the powers of the elected LGs in the two critical service delivery areas which may lead to discontent and even litigation. It will be a better idea for the provincial government to give a bigger role and greater authority to the elected heads of the LGs in the working of the two authorities instead of controlling them from the provincial capital. Now that the provincial ruling party is going to overwhelmingly control the LGs, it should be easier for the provincial government to devolve its powers and create powerful and effective LGs. Peace, stability, attention to less developed areas, greater access to remote areas and addressing the sense of deprivation among poorer sections of the population can be better tackled under an effective LG regime. Although the provincial government had been allocating financial resources to south Punjab in proportion to its population during the past eight years, many feel that actual spending may not be less than the allocations. An effective LG system can keep better track of their spending. The Punjab government, despite challenges, has provided better governance in many areas. The challenge is to take good governance to the grass roots through effective LGs. The writer is president of Pildat — a public policy think tank of Pakistan Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2016

TIMERGARA: Convener of Lower Dir district council, Abdul Rashid, postponed the council meeting on Wednesday as majority of the councillors did not turn up to attend the session.

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday notified the names of candidates who had won reserved seats of the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC).

ISLAMABAD: Provincial governments’ reported resistance to empower recently elected local bodies attracted attention of the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

LAHORE: Lahore High Court Justice Shahid Waheed on Wednesday turned down the request of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo to stay the implementation of the amendments made in Punjab Local Government (amendment) Ordinance 2016.