Empirically, there have been ever-growing civic problems in Pakistan leading to the creation of many issues and even conflicts in the country and the key cause of the state of affairs is the lack of good governance at the rudimentary level. The lack of good governance in the country, among other factors, has also been due to the ineffective local government system and bodies.
At the moment, elected local government institutions have either completed or going to complete their respective tenures in four provinces. These are the second local government bodies on the trot to have completed or would soon complete their tenures. However, local government bodies have not flowered as strong institutions in any of the province to be of any real value.
There are various reasons for the ineffectiveness and incapacity of the local government bodies in different provinces. The reasons range from personal inability, poor leadership, administrative lacunas, systemic constraints, lack of financial power and others. But, the most important reason for the ineffective local government system has been the cunningness of the political parties to allow municipal bodies to flourish in the country and their respective provinces and fortes. The government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), under the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan, wants to introduce a very strong and effective local government system in the country and this too uniformly across all the provinces. Howsoever good the intention may be of PM Khan regarding the introduction of a vibrant and effective local government system, there has been stiff resistance from within the PTI to such proposals. As mentioned above, the reason is that if the leadership of various political parties allows the local government system to flourish in the country, it fundamentally compromises their personal and group interests.
It is important to note that the last time also the provincial governments of different political parties had unwillingly announced schedules for holding local bodies’ elections after great delay and defying Supreme Court of Pakistan orders. It was only after the strong intervention of the Supreme Court of Pakistan that they were compelled to hold elections. However, before that all the political parties had joined hands and passed “unanimous” resolutions in both the National Assembly and the Senate, asking for the deferment of the polls citing various reasons for holding such a mega exercise.
Holding local government elections is a constitutional obligation of the provinces and the Centre and there must be no option but to hold these elections. However, the previous and the present governments in the provinces and the Centre have been doing their utmost to postpone the elections. It had been after innumerable hearings and arguments therein before the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the provinces had left with no excuse and option but to announce their respective schedules for the local government elections.
The fact of the matter is that the political parties have not been willing and cheerful to hold local government elections because of the fear of losing political power and the perks and privileges associated with it. All the political parties now having their governments in different provinces have been apprehensive that if local government systems get established their political fate would be sealed because most of these parties do not have strong organizational units at the grassroots level. Whether it is the PPP, PML-N, PTI, MQM, ANP, PkMAP, BNP and others, all of these political groups have the only driving force of top leadership. This fact prevents them from emerging as true political entities with a coherent ideology. It is important to note that most the parties, sans the PTI and MQM, have family-based leaderships.
Therefore, for political parties, favouring the local government system has been tantamount to giving up power from one’s own hand. This is not acceptable to the political parties and leaders. The attitude has roots in the conservative nature of Pakistani society and the resultant undemocratic norms and values. It is in such a society that political leadership does not want to decentralize power. This is also an indicator that our political parties have not come of age and know the rationale and value of local governments and devolution of power as well as resources.
The people of Pakistan must weigh the political and democratic credentials of the political parties by these standards. People must know that only democratic and liberal political parties, which can be gauged from their actions instead of statements of their leaders, are a guarantee to their and the country’s development.
It is also important to note that most of the political parties that are ruling previously or now having governments in the provinces have always been great exponents of provincial rights and, above all, decentralization of power from the Centre to provinces. But for many years, we have seen that after having political power they consistently refused to devolve it to the local tiers within their own provinces and to the people they have always claimed to represent.
Local government structures, including the institutions and system, are the essence of a true democratic culture and polity. The devolved government structures are the best institutions to have the highest and most effective participation of the largest number of people. In turn, these are the institutions that can assess the developmental and services needs of the local inhabitants and, therefore, can be of huge value. Because in this way, they can ensure the welfare of the greatest number of people, the time-tested liberal and democratic political principle.
Someone once rightly said that politicians think of the next election while a statesman thinks of the next generation. What Pakistan needs at this critical point when separatist and militant tendencies are very much against the survival of the state and its political and constitutional system, are statesmen instead of politicians. Either our politicians ought to demonstrate statesmanship or they have to leave the political arena. Here, one must give full credit to the superior judiciary of Pakistan for insisting on the provinces and the federal government to have local governments. The learned judges profoundly know the value of local governments in the country. Apart from implementing the provisions of the constitution as their constitutional duty, one is happy to know that the judges are fully aware of the issues that have arisen out of the absence and weak local governments in the country. One believes that the judges are fully sensitive to the increasing erosion of the state writ on the country’s territories and the ever-growing civic problems.
All provinces are going to hold new local government elections soon. The provinces must reform their existing local government laws and system because they are unable to address the issues of the people and fulfil their basic municipal needs. Karachi today, with the entire city engulfed by garbage, is a case in point. The superior judiciary must also have an assessment of the local government laws of different provinces and must ensure that the purpose of the system, as enshrined in the Constitution, could be attained. In this regard, financial and administrative powers must be fully devolved to the local governments.