Local Councils Association of Punjab (LCAP) Chairman Zahid Iqbal Chaudhry has called for the declaration of local government as the third tier of state with a separate chapter inserted in the constitution defining broader structure and functions similar to that of federal and provincial governments.
Talking to Minute Mirror, Chaudhry maintained the Supreme Court’s current judgement also supported his demand. The mainstream political parties, he suggested, should develop a consensus on introducing resolutions to this effect in their respective provincial assemblies.
“The passage of the bill from provincial assemblies will pave the way for introducing a bill in the parliament for a constitutional amendment to encourage broader discussion and consensus building on the future of local government ensuring similarity and continuity of local government in the country,” he said.
The country has a chequered history when it comes to putting local governments in place and providing them powers. Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are running without local governments for more than a year, exposing the ruling political parties’ commitment to basic democracies. The provincial governments continue to drag their feet on the LG elections after the expiry of the term of local bodies.
Zahid Chaudhary further stated that he held meetings with politicians across the political divide and former representatives of local bodies to develop a consensus on LG system.
“We have recently organized a national conference on local government in Islamabad to discuss the current challenges and forwarded recommendations to the concerned quarters to develop a durable and workable mechanism on local bodies,” he said, adding that President Dr. Arif Alvi attended the moot and also highlighted the need for the LG elections.
The LCAP chairman also said that during his interactions with the representatives of political parties, he reached the conclusion that majority of the mainstream political parties and other stakeholders now realised that the country needed a simplified system of local governance with a broader structure and well-defined functions without compromising the spirit of provincial autonomy under the 18th amendment of the constitution.
“The delay to develop a consensus on the LG system by the political parties could cost the country heavily considering Pakistan’s commitment to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” he added.
Since more than 60 percent goals mentioned in SDG fell within the domain of the local government, the absence of the system would certainly affect the country’s progress, he added.
Chaudhry was of the view that the key reason for not having local governments in the country was the role of federal and provincial legislators who felt threatened by elected representatives of the local government having more powers and resources for development.
“The only solution is to restrict these legislators to their primary role, which is making legislation, rather than spending development funds in their constituencies,” he stated.
The LCAP chairman further said that majority of the political parties were in favour of strong and sustained local governments for accelerated development of the country, but were hesitant to do so because of their members in the national and provincial assemblies.
He added that they all supported the idea of inserting a separate chapter in the constitution about local government functions and responsibilities, similar to those of federal and provincial governments.