Spearhead Analysis – 06.12.2013
By Shemrez Nauman Afzal
Research Advisor and Consultant (Security and Governance)
Spearhead Research – Pakistan
According to latest news reports, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced polling schedules for local bodies election in the Punjab (January 30) and Sindh (January 18) provinces. The notification for these polling schedules will be issued on December 07, 2013 instead of November 29, as the ECP had decided earlier, because the said provinces were unable to complete the pre-requisites in time. The issue of local government (LG) elections had gone to the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC), which had instructed the ECP to hold the elections without delay, despite (and regardless of) the reservations of the provinces. The ECP – in its latest plea to the SC, which was accepted and admitted – also said that local government elections would be held in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, cantonment areas and Islamabad before the end of February, 2013. The ECP Secretary, Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan, has categorically stated that both the Commission and the provinces are bound to hold the LG elections according to the dates instructed by the SC. In an earlier submission, the ECP had submitted before the SC that Punjab and Sindh would hold LG elections in December 2013; the provincial governments, however, submitted that they would not be able to complete the ECP pre-requisites within this timeframe. Latest reports indicate that Punjab has yet to complete its delimitation process for local government jurisdictions; on the other hand, while Sindh has already completed the three pre-requisites laid down by the ECP (preparation of LG legislation, formulation of relevant rules and procedures, and delimitation of local government units), the Commission has pointed out “flaws” in the rules that have been formulated by the Sindh government. Nevertheless, progress is being made as far as institution of local government bodies – and actual devolution of power and transfer of authority to the people in localized constituencies – is concerned. The ECP has also asked the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial government to extend LG legislation to areas that have PATA (Provincially Administered Tribal Areas) status, such as areas in Chitral district, Dir district, Kohistan district, Mansehra district, and – most importantly – Malakand district and Swat district.
The most encouraging dimension of this “real” devolution of power to the grassroots levels is the LG elections scheduled for Balochistan province on December 07, 2013. As such, Balochistan will be the first province to hold LG elections since the previous system expired in 2009. While the people of Balochistan will have the opportunity to elect their local representatives and to adjudge whether their local governments are empowered enough to solve their localized, constituency-wide problems, there are certain lacunae that plague the democratic essence of LG elections in Balochistan. Out of all the LG seats up for election, at least 2,332 candidates have no competitors and will therefore be elected unopposed, while 4,350 seats will actually be contested in the LG elections. Moreover, almost 508 LG seats will fall vacant according to Provincial Election Commissioner Sultan Bayazid, as no candidate has even submitted nomination papers for these positions. Even though by-elections to these 508 LG seats and other contested seats can be held after the Decemebr 07 polling process is over, this is a clear indication of a significantly detrimental disenchantment with the democratic system not only on part of the people, but also on part of local leaders who were expected to contest LG elections in these constituencies. While this may be attributed to public disenchantment with the democratic process, one must also keep in mind the security situation and law & order problems in the province, as well as threats issued by separatists and militant groups to those who participate (such threats were also issued to candidates contesting the May 2013 general elections). Many continue to wonder whether unopposed elections – whether at the national, provincial or local level – are good for democracy in Pakistan or not: whatever the reason may be for candidates running unopposed or non-submission of candidacy applications in Balochistan’s LG elections, this development shows the extent of democratic underdevelopment in Pakistan – that people do not have any choice of who their leaders are at the grassroots level (or choose to not participate in democratic franchise), and in some cases, people can only choose one person who they believe is capable of solving their local problems.
In the previous LG system (that lasted from 2001 to 2009), local bodies had a uniform structure throughout the country, with a federal law providing rules, guidelines, authorities and powers for the local bodies. The powers of the Zila Nazim (district mayor) and the system of local governance that operated under his authority is delineated according to the following organogram:
It is believed that provincial governments will most likely be modifying this system – previous applied to all districts uniformly – for implementation in the districts and sub-districts within their jurisdiction.
The shortcomings of local government administration according to 18th century colonial laws and by bureaucratic administrators who are only answerable to the superior civil service and political hierarchy (i.e. government ministers and/or legislators) have already been elaborated upon. It goes without saying that Pakistan cannot efficiently deal with 21st century problems using archaic laws and an ineffective legal system that does not allow for targeted policymaking or for result-oriented decision-making. At the same time, it is of the utmost importance for the civilian government and political parties that raise slogans in favour of democracy (and sometimes fail to practice democratic methods and processes within their parties) to shed their fears of local government systems and complete the democratic triad of civilian governance in Pakistan. It is obviously a matter of great concern that politicians and political parties who believe in democratic governance proceeded to appoint bureaucratic administrators – or “district dictators” in effect – instead of holding LG elections as early as 2009 or 2010, and this betrayed an unexpected and unwelcome act of hypocrisy on part of these pro-democracy politicians who thereby centralized power in their own hands through hand-picked divisional commissioners and district administrators (most, if not all, of whom were bureaucratic officials of the District Management Group – DMG – or the Pakistan Administrative Service – PAS – as it is now termed) who were answerable to the federal (Prime Minister) and provincial (Chief Ministers) chief executives rather than to the people of their constituencies.
Before the latest institution of local governance systems in Pakistan, MNAs and MPAs were approached by their constituents to address governance issues and resolve constituency problems: this was the norm despite the fact that legislators such as MNAs (at the national level) and MPAs (at the provincial level) are supposed to legislate and represent their constituents in the assemblies to which they have been elected, not address governance issues in their city, district or constituency! But, as stated above, the case had been the other way around in Pakistan till 2001. This also gives credence to the view held by established political parties and incumbents in power who believed that local bodies would dilute the power of the federal and provincial governments as well as the public appeal of mainstream national political parties. Now – as per the 18th Amendment – the provincial government has complete control and oversight of the local governance system that will operate in its jurisdiction, and again, one hopes that these “fears” on part of national political parties and civil governments at the national and provincial levels will be overcome as far as LG elections and institution of LG bodies are concerned. If these “fears” on part of the political parties had already been overcome, the impression of the general public is that the incumbent civilian government (as well as the previous civilian government) was not keen on institution local governance mechanisms, and that the existing provincial governments (and the ECP as well, for that matter) have been somewhat “forced” by the SC to hold LG polls as soon as possible, and maybe “against their will”. However, it can also be assumed that since this is a novel experiment in Pakistan’s democratic history, provincial governments led by civilians and political parties took the requisite time to develop the appropriate laws, rules and regulations for local governance systems in their provinces so as to avoid any governance failures in the future, build safeguards into these systems, make room for future improvements and enhancements, and develop metrics to measure and evaluate the successful performance (or otherwise) of each local government system at each level of governance (i.e. district and sub-district). Time will prove whether this assumption was correct, or whether the delays in holding LG elections were due to some other reason(s).
Many analysts believe that incumbent political parties have been wary of the LG system because they associated the post-2001 LG system with the laws and actions of a dictator – in essence, Pakistan’s major political parties (at least covertly) held the view that the post-2001 LG system was designed to undercut the power and public appeal of these parties; and perhaps for this reason (and many others), LG elections were not held between 2009 and 2013. In a detailed analysis of why elected governments have always steered clear of LG elections, Herald’s Abid Hussain states that “the answer lies in Pakistan’s political history”. Under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, the provinces are now empowered to administer local government institutions in the districts that are in their territorial jurisdiction, and provide rules and regulations for the appropriate functioning of the same. This should allow political parties and civilian governments at the provincial level to address their so-called “fears” of the LG system, especially as far as the party- or non-party-basis of these elections are concerned (since the 2001 LG elections were held on non-party basis, meaning that political parties could not contest LG elections or field candidates on party basis, the LG system was deliberately designed to undermine established and entrenched national political parties). Mr. Hussain also sheds light on the differences between Punjab’s and Sindh’s local government laws and the different models of local governance that will be operational thereafter: “While Sindh’s local government law makes local governments beholden to the provincial government for money, Punjab’s law goes one step further and gives district-level bureaucracy a final say in the local government affairs. But an even bigger difference between the two laws is that the former provides for a local government election to be held on party basis while the latter declares that these elections will be held on a non-party basis.” According to the same analysis, the PTI-led KP government is expected to allow party-based LG elections up to tehsil level, and holding non-party-based LG elections at the village levels and union council (UC) levels.
Essentially, each of the provinces of Pakistan will have their own local government systems operating in their territorial jurisdiction, and this can very well be considered a development from the nationally-uniform LG systems initiated (or enforced/imposed, as the incumbent civilian government and major political parties would consider it) in 2001. Whether these developments – i.e. divergence in the systems of local governance that operate in each province – are progressive or regressive, only time will tell: however, one can also hope that if an experiment succeeds in one province, it can be adapted by another province where their own local government experiment is not delivering, or is suffering from ineffectiveness of any kind due to any reason whatsoever.
The success or failure of any local government in any province of Pakistan will eventually be determined by their effectiveness in indentifying, dealing with and solving localized problems that are faced by the Pakistani public on a district- and sub-district-level. If local governments are not empowered with actual authority and responsibilities to fix problems in their territorial jurisdictions, and address the issues of their constituents, then real devolution of power will not have taken place and LG institutions will be bound to fail regardless of the turnout – or lack of – in LG elections for any given district or sub-district constituency. The whole idea of local governance – in Pakistan and in other countries – is to form local authorities that are responsible to local leaders who are elected by local constituents in small-size constituencies; which are essentially adequate for effective governance and speedy redressal of issues/problems in governance and public administration. These local authorities – or local government bodies – would be able to solve local problems with local solutions, rather than let these local problems become subject to (and thus delayed by) national questions, unnecessary bureaucratic scrutiny, and other hurdles in the state delivering basic services as well as advanced, matured and carefully tailored services to the general public in each constituency, in each unit of local governance, in each district and sub-district.
Since each province is creating its own local governance system, it is hoped that eventually, each local government will become unique insofar as the constituency and the provincial government/legislature will modify it for that purpose – according to democratic procedures, the rule of law, the necessity of modernization and progress to keep up with the needs of the time, and the requirements of the people; by using methods of public franchise such as elections, referendums, and other ways and means to ascertain the will of the people – so as to conform to the needs of the relevant district and/or sub-district, and the people who live in it. To this effect, it will not be incumbent on the provincial or national chief executive to themselves resolve the problems faced by the constituents of a particular district or sub-district, since these are diverse in nature and their magnitude varies from district to district. Local authorities with responsibility over governance subjects in localized constituencies will be responsible for education, health, water, sanitation, law& order, agriculture, and community development in their specific jurisdiction – and since these will be local leaders elected by constituents of the area, they are more likely to be more well-versed with the problems of the concerned area than the provincial or national chief executive (or perhaps even the national or provincial assembly legislators from these areas).
Finally, an in-built mechanism of measuring success (or failure) and effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) should be accompanied with a process of introducing positive changes (such as improvements and enhancements) into local governance bodies. This can only be done by provincial legislatures, according to the law and the Constitution. These mechanisms and processes should also account for the general will of the public, and local governance institutions should be truly sensitive to the desires of the populace that they represent and serve: methods of democratic franchise such as referendums could be used in the interim periods – while the local government institutions (as well as national and provincial assemblies) are still in session – to suggest legislative measures, encourage or reject local government initiatives, and draw attention of national, provincial and local leaders to issues of urgent concern. As local government institutions also become systematized and entrenched in the democratic culture of Pakistan, the general public and the voting constituency of the entire country will indubitably acquire a sense of national responsibility and establish an ethos of depending on their own selves for the development of the community, the district, the city and the country. It is hoped that in this way, the people of the country will truly be empowered, and that governance decisions will actually be in the hands of the people of Pakistan, through their elected representatives at all three tiers of government – for if local governments are not allowed to function appropriately and provide the future provincial and national leadership for the nation, then the nation of Pakistan will continue to suffer from the modern disease of “governance without power”.