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Old Wednesday, June 20, 2007
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Default Local Government in Pakistan


Local governments have existed in the Indian subcontinent for many centuries, with the first municipal corporation set-up in Madras in 1688 by the East India Company. In 1842, the Conservancy Act which lead to the formation of sanitary committees for garbage disposal became the first formal measure of municipal organization which applied to the Bengal Presidency. In Karachi, the Board of Conservancy was established in 1846, while in Lahore and Rawalpindi, the Municipal Act was passed in 1867. Subsequent important events were Lord Ripon's Resolution on local self-government in 1882, which allowed for the provision of some elected members in municipal committees and proposed the establishment of rural local governments. The 1907 Decentralization Commission recommended the appointment of non-official Chairmen of municipal committees, a recommendation which was endorsed and extended further by the 1925 Simon Commission set up to assess the performance of local self-government. The 1935 Government of India Act allowed provincial autonomy and permitted provinces to frame legislation on local government systems.

In 1947 the areas that constituted Pakistan had few developed systems of local government and they were confined mainly to Punjab. Wherever local government existed, it was not based on adult franchise and its agenda and budget was under severe bureaucratic control of the Deputy Commissioner who played a critical role in determining its policy. The period 1958 to 1969 saw the erection of Pakistan's first Martial Law and the establishment of a military government as well as the development of an extensive elected system of local government. The military government after disbanding the provincial and national governments realized that there was a need for at least a resemblance of involvement of the people in their own affairs. This gave rise to the Basic Democracies System providing for a new local government system across the country through which members were elected. In urban areas, town committees were set up for towns having a population of less than 14,000. Under the Basic Democracies Ordinance of 1959, urban areas were defined as areas under the jurisdiction of a municipal body or any other area that the government could declare as an urban area. Town committees were expected to perform 37 functions ranging from measures for promotion of social welfare and health to the maintenance of infrastructural facilities. These committees could also levy taxes on 29 items that included vehicles and trade.

Urban areas consisted of union committees that had six to ten elected members. The Chairman of the union committee was elected as an ex-officio member of the municipal committee. Union committees were deprived of fiscal powers of any sort. While all the Chairmen of union committees were members of the municipal committee, the Chairman of the municipal committee itself was appointed by the provincial government or by Commissioners. In rural areas, the first tier of government was the Union Council that consisted of a group of villages. Like urban areas, each Council elected a Chairman from amongst its members who served as the executive head of the committee. Like town committees, Union Councils also had 37 functions assigned to them. The Chairmen of the Union Councils in an area constituted collectively a higher Council, the Tehsil Council, which did not perform any executive functions. Its main function was to coordinate the activities of Union Councils and Union Committees in its jurisdiction. Unlike Union Councils, the Tehsil Council had no taxation powers.

In the Basic Democracies System, a District Council was created, consisting of an Electoral College of which all Chairmen of Union Councils, town and union committees were members, removing the distinction between urban and rural areas. The District Council had 28 obligatory and 70 optional functions and powers to levy taxes. Its main purpose was to coordinate the activities of all local councils and municipal committees under its jurisdiction. The Basic Democracies system was seen as a substitute for universal suffrage and served as an Electoral College to elect the President and the assemblies. However, with the fall of the Ayub Khan regime, to which the system was closely associated, it fell into disfavour. Besides, the first general elections of 1970 and the separation of East Pakistan from Pakistan resulted in the formation of an altogether new system of government in the country. Ironically though, the proposed elections to be held under the People's Local Government Ordinance of 1975 promulgated by Pakistan's first democratically elected government and meant to elect town and municipal committees (as well as councils in the rural area), were never held.
If the first Martial Law Government was the pioneer in devising an extensive system of local governments, it was the second Martial Law Regime of General Zia that implemented elected local governments. These were revived in 1979 under the provincial local government ordinances, which, with amendments, was in operation till 14th Auguest 2001 in Pakistan. Under this ordinance, there were four levels of municipal government in the urban areas: town committees, municipal committees, municipal corporations and metropolitan corporations. Members of the council elect the senior officers of these councils and the controlling authority was the elected house. There was a three-tier system of local government in operation in Pakistan in the rural areas, where Union Councils, Tehsil or Taluka Councils and District Councils were supposed to exist. However, provincial governments had in practice usually abolished the middle-tier, the Tehsil/Taluka level. As a result mainly Union Councils and District Councils existed, which were elected on the basis of adult franchise. The elected members elected the Chairmen of these councils themselves.

The period since 1985 had seen five general elections enabling the people to choose members of the provincial and national assemblies. In the absence of elected assemblies however, local governments were the only popularly elected bodies and thus played important political and developmentalist roles. After the election of Senators and members of the provincial and national assemblies, the role of local governments had been substantially marginalized. These elected representatives had taken over some functions which local governments used to perform. Specific federal and provincial level programmes that were directed at elected provincial and federal members of parliament, such as the Five Point Programme of the Junejo Government (1985-1988), the Peoples Programme of the first Benazir Bhutto Government and other such programmes, had in many ways intervened in the evolution of proper and improved local government.

Under the above named programmes, elected members of provincial and national assemblies were given funds of considerable amount that they could use, largely on their own discretion, for developmentalist projects in their political constituency. This had severely undermined the role local governments had been playing and could play in the development of particular (local) areas and regions. Furthermore, the fact that the elected principle of local bodies had been in abeyance reflects the attitude of elected and non-elected government officials. There seemed to be an inherent conflict of interest between different tiers of government in which local governments, assumed to be the most expendable, had had to bear the brunt.

The present government of Pakistan, sensing the obvious short comings of local government system under Ordinance of 1979 and putting the country on the road of democracy came up with a new local government plan. The plan integrates the rural with the urban local governments on one hand and bureaucracy with the local government on the other, into are coherent structure in which district administration and police are answerable to the elected Chief Executive of the district. Citizen monitoring of the affairs of governance through elected representatives, the civil society's involvement with development activities and system of effective check & balances.

Local government's are formed on three levels Distrcit, Tehsil & Union Council level. They are based on five fundamentals devolution of political power, decentralization of administrative authority, decentralization of management functions, diffusion of power authority nexus and distribution of resources at different levels.

Election were held in August, 2001 under the new local government Ordinance. Elected Local governments have been successfully setup at all tiers and devolution of administrative, bureaucratic and financial resources one at the final stages.

The Local Governments have successfully completed their tenure and new elections of Local Governments were held in year 2005. A major paradigm in shift has taken place after devolution plan 2001. Powers have been decentralized at grass roots level, which enhanced efficiency and effectiveness.
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The Local Governments have successfully completed their tenure and new elections of Local Governments were held in year 2005. A major paradigm in shift has taken place after devolution plan 2001. Powers have been decentralized at grass roots level, which enhanced efficiency and effectiveness.

It is an episode of military dogmatism.
still searching for my soul..............

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