3rd March 2023
By Rehan Piracha
Political parties must consider a constitutional amendment that envisages a separate chapter on local governments, determining their guiding principles, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s national conference report on local government.
Elected local governments are key players in guaranteeing human rights, particularly the economic and social rights of the vulnerable, said the HRCP report titled Local Government: Towards a New Chapter. The COVID pandemic and recent floods of 2022 have underscored the critical role that local governments could play in addressing political and social challenges, especially during a disaster, it said.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has failed to introduce an effective local government system. According to the HRCP report, the earlier experiments with local governments have been manipulated by military rulers to legitimise their regimes and undermine democratic forces in the country. “Even under elected civilian governments, there has been little progress towards instituting strong and efficient local governments in Pakistan, arguably because of lack of ownership by the existing political parties.”
Apart from Article 140-A in the Constitution, there is no comprehensive constitutional framework governing local bodies’ roles and responsibilities or their interaction with higher tiers of government. In order to engage with political leaders, analysts, academics and legislators on these challenges to devolution, the HRCP held a national conference in Islamabad in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom on November 23, 2022. The report is based on the outcomes and feedback received from participants at the conference.
The conference held sessions on local governments as the foundation of federalism and democracy; a provincial perspective on local government: Challenges and solutions; and local government and reluctant political elites: where do political parties stand?
The report noted that the conference marked the first time that all major political parties agreed on the need for a constitutional amendment to determine the guiding principles for local governments. Following the sessions, former senator and HRCP Council member Farhatullah Babar summarised the recommendations discussed during the conference for empowering local governments and addressing the challenges to devolution.
Scope of Article 140-A inadequate
Article 140-A is an inadequate safeguard for local governments. It should be more elaborately explained.
Constitutional amendment required
Political parties must consider a constitutional amendment that envisages a separate chapter on local governments, determining their guiding principles.
Constitutional guarantee for LGs
Provincial governments should not have the right to suspend local governments. The continuity of local governments should be protected by the constitution.
LG polls on time
Local elections should take place on time. The census must also be rectified so that voter lists and delimitations are more accurate. Local governments should be able to make their own rules of business.
Limit provincial govts to legislation
Provincial governments’ municipal and legislative responsibilities should be delinked. Their mandate is legislation, not service delivery.
Encourage women to contest LG polls
Women should be part of local body policymaking committees. Parties should encourage them to stand for office. Women in local government need support and capacity building to enhance their experience of public dealing. Women, religious minorities, youth, farmers, persons living with disabilities and transpersons should not be barred from direct election to local governments.
Only LGs use development funds
Only local governments should be entitled to receive and use development funds. This will stop corruption and bring in more genuine representatives.
Financial devolution should be tied to the devolution of functions so that local governments have enough funds to efficiently perform their functions.