What is local government? Local government is the lowest tier of governance in a sovereign state. Local governments are ordinarily formed by legislation warranting devolution of administration and functions. Typically, local governments are provided with functional and administrative autonomy in the specific domain of allotted functions. A local government is an operational government different from coordinative federal and provincial governments. Although, the compass of local government is limited to that of provincial or federal government yet not impact. The structure of the local government partially replicates the legislative, judicial, and executive structures of a comprehensive government.
The Constitution of Pakistan provides the inherent constitutional promise to raise the institution of local government. Chapter 2 of the constitution “Principles of Policy” necessitates the principle through Article 32, that state shall encourage local government institutions composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned and in such institutions, special representation will be given to peasants, workers and women. Moreover, that principle is reflected under Article 140 A of the constitution that 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. Hence, creating a progressive local government by an organic act is the constitutional obligation of a province.
How governments are formed?
A constitution is the supreme law of the land and all institutions must emanate from the lifeforce of the constitution. The local government shall be created by an organic act of the provincial assembly encompassing the constitutional stipulation of devolving political, administrative and financial power. The framework arises a fundamental question as to what should be the functions of a local government under the administrative scheme of the federation. The Constitution does not specifically provide the functions of a local government. Article 70(4) along with schedule IV of the constitution placed a federal legislative list encompassing 77 federal functions.
All those functions not enumerated in the federal legislative list are residuary or provincial encircling almost, 10 fundamental functions. Hence, the equilibrium of distribution of functions between federation and provinces is exceedingly in favor of federation. Accordingly, the provinces remain reluctant to distribute the residuary subjects between provincial and local governments owing to small cake and then, their desire to concentrate power in the provincial capital.
The accomplishment of a local government system is directly proportionate to the equitable distribution of residuary functions between provincial and local governments. Consequently, local government is dependent on the legislative prerogative of the provincial assembly and latter never strengthens the local government due to diverse pressures and interests. Local government is created by an organic action of the provincial assembly, so the provincial government maneuvers the compilation of local government to its advantage. Hence, the quality of the local government act is directly proportionate to the functionality of the local government. Legislating a functional local government action is an elementary accomplishment for a local government.
Power structures in Pakistan are not enthusiastic to decentralise the power as promised in the constitution owing to their love for the concentration of power. So, de facto centralisation is dominating over the de jure decentralisation and consequently, the local government is a causality. The evolutionists need to raise the bar vindicating why devolution is central to the success of a federation.
The political elite in Pakistan must realize the importance of devolution in order to improve service delivery and governance at the grassroots. Besides, political culture needs an electoral reformation to elect the right person for the right legislature. Provincial and national legislators should not be elected on local municipal services. The moment, local government representatives take the municipal services back from national or provincial legislators, there shall be a functional local government.
How can local governments be improved?
Local government requires constitutional guarantees due to our peculiar political environment as the local government action is often repealed by coming governments. Consequently, the whole structure of the local government falls apart. Suggestively, to strengthen the foundation of the local government action, the functions should not be repealed without 2/3 of the majority of the provincial assembly. Likewise, the structures of the local government should only be repealed with 3/4 of the majority of the provincial assembly.
Creation of local government service LGS should also be provided a constitutional guarantee like federal, provincial and all Pakistan services. Moreover, financial devolution to districts is as important as legislative and administrative devolution. The provincial consolidated fund should equitably be distributed between provincial and local governments and that distribution must be provided a constitutional guarantee.
Electioneering day of the local government remains an apple of discord owing to provincial and national political interests often leading to failure of holding elections. Electioneering of local government elections should be provided a constitutional guarantee. Appropriately, local government elections may be held alongside national elections. Hence, the aforesaid constitutional provisions may help restore a functional local government system.
The creation of specialised local government cadres and services including sub-cadre of municipal police is elemental to local service delivery. The General cadre of federal or provincial services should not reserve the posts borne out on the budget of local government to upkeep the principle of the post, cadre and legislative alignment. Appropriately, the cadre of LGS may be compartmented into specialized sub-cadres of municipal services. That is here, the implementation of local government shall become functional and independent.
The capacity and functional organisation of the provincial local Government Department are instrumental to the management of district local governments. The administrative department is the head of the attached organisations and is responsible for capacity building, resource mobilization and structural developments. The local government system shall not be functional without a functional department. Predominantly, if an administrative department is functional, that means there exists a functional local government system.
Last but not the least, local government is a complete government and should not be treated as a devolved little organization. It should be reorganised as a comprehensive government encompassing legislative, administrative and financial powers.
Written by Tariq Mahmood Awan
The writer is a civil servant and heads a research society on administrative federalism. He tweets at @PMScivilservant and can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.