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Devolution of Power

By: Abdul Rasool Syed

Pakistan needs a good local government system

To ensure good governance, decentralization of the centralized dispensation in a federal structure is of paramount importance. Devolution of power from centre to states, or provinces in the case of Pakistan, and then to local level is a sine qua non for heterogeneous countries like Pakistan, where large segments of citizenry remain marginalized by a centralist governance mechanism.

Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This very benchmark of a democratic polity is consummate with the erection of the third tier of government, also known as local bodies or local government, wherein people belonging to the underprivileged segments of society have sufficient participation and a greater say in the management of affairs at local level.

Political scientists also contend that the local governments serve as a political nursery for producing leaders of the future. The perpetuity of the local governance, therefore, results in the emergence of a dynamic and empathetic leadership. People who rise from grassroots level have deep insight into the issues that the people living at the margins are faced with, and hence they are aptly capable of dealing with such issues effectively. Furthermore, in a broader spectrum, local government system is considered a prerequisite for nurturing democratic norms in a society. It is due to inconsistent installation of the local bodies that we could not foster genuine democratic ethos in our country.

Chronologically, after the independence, Pakistan’s first serious attempt to focus on local government occurred during the martial law regime of Ayub Khan. Since then, different versions of local government have been introduced and experimented by elected and non-elected governments alike. Ironically, during the democratic era of 1988-99, four democratically-elected governments gained power, but none worked on the local government system. Pakistan’s next big experiment with devolution was done under General Pervez Musharaf – Devolution of Power Plan, 2001. Musharraf’s devolutionary exercise actually was also a legitimizing strategy for his centralized rule, since it did not devolve power from the federal level to the provinces; it instead focused on creating local governments on non-party basis. Yet the Local Government Ordinance (LGO), 2001, passed during Musharaf’s tenure was quite ambitious in its scope. The LGO 2001 reserved a significant portion of local government seats, i.e. 33 percent, for women, and to a lesser degree, for religious minorities and other marginalized communities i.e. peasants and labourers.

However, the passage of the 18th Amendment was a pronounced step forward for the continuation and protection of the local bodies system. Clause 140 A(1), which was inserted in the constitution through the 18th Constitutional Amendment, stipulated that “[e]ach 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.” Whereas 140 A(2) states that “[e]lections to the local governments shall be held by the Election Commission of Pakistan.” In addition, Article 32 of the constitution ensures the participation of marginalized groups such as women, minorities, peasants and labourers in the local government elections.

Read More: Poverty and local governance

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