LAHORE, July 23: Changes are constantly being made in the draft of the new local system prepared by the PML-N Punjab government without touching its basic concept of withdrawing devolution, ending the district governments’ status of independent units and dismantling the existing district management structure.
“The draft is constantly being rehashed. It will be tabled in the assembly for adoption after an approval by the chief minister and we expect some more suggestions from him. Additionally, we do expect some more changes from the assembly’s standing committee concerned to which the introduced bill will be referred,” said a senior official who preferred anonymity.
But, he said, the basic concept of wrapping up the local government system independent of the provincial government would not be changed. With the new set-up, the existing management system in districts would be wrapped up, reintroducing the office of the deputy commissioner probably through an executive order.
He said work on restoring the office of deputy commissioner too had been started. But the office would not be like that of the pre-2001 period as revival of executive magistracy required amendments to CrPC, which the federal government alone could do.
A copy of the draft of the new law obtained by Dawn on Tuesday prove what the official said is true.
However, its preamble looks like the sugar coating of a bitter bill. It says the law is being introduced: “To establish an elected local government system to devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments; to promote good governance, effective delivery of services and transparent decision making through institutionalised participation of the people at local level; and, to deal with ancillary matters.”
The main features of the law include dividing the urban and rural areas which were united by Gen Musharraf (retired) through its existing Local Government Ordinance 2001 for unified development. However, the new law says it did not work and the rural areas lagged behind in development.
The draft law says the local governments to be established under this Act shall function within the provincial framework and shall faithfully observe the federal and provincial laws.
In the performance of their functions, the local governments shall not impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive authority of the government.
“The Government shall, by notification in the official Gazette, divide a District into urban area and rural area.
For purposes of this Act, the government shall, by notification, declare a local area consisting of Lahore District as the Metropolitan Corporation, rural area in a District, as Union Councils and a District Council; and urban area in a District, as a Municipal Corporation and a Municipal Committee.
“The local governments constituted under this Act shall have Metropolitan Corporation for Lahore District and a Municipal Corporation for such urban area as the government may notify, a Municipal Committee for such urban area as the Government may notify, a District Council for the rural area of a District other than Lahore and Union Councils for rural areas of the District; and District Education Authority and District Health Authority for a District, including Lahore.
“The Government may declare an integrated urban area having a population less than 50,000 to be a Municipal Committee and specify in the notification the number of the directly and indirectly elected members of the Municipal Committee.
“A Union Council shall consist of directly elected Chairman and Vice Chairman, as joint candidates, five other directly elected members on the basis of adult franchise, and following indirectly elected members on the reserved seats by the directly elected members including the Chairman and the Vice Chairman -- one each woman and peasant members and one non-Muslim member where there are 500 non-Muslim voters or more registered in the Union Council.
“The entire Union Council shall be the constituency for election of the Chairman and the Vice Chairman while each Union Council shall be divided into five wards for direct election of five members of the Union Council.
“There shall be a District Council in a District, other than the Lahore District, which shall consist of the Chairmen of all Union Councils in the District, and shall include the following members indirectly elected on the reserved seats by the Chairmen of the Union Councils -- such women members, not exceeding 15, as the Government may notify on the basis of population of the District Council, such peasant members, not exceeding five, as the Government may notify on the basis of population of the District Council, such non-Muslim members, not exceeding five, as the Government may notify on the basis of population of the non-Muslims in the District Council.
“The Metropolitan Corporation shall consist of 200 members directly elected on the basis of single ward and adult franchise, and the following members indirectly elected by majority of the directly elected members present and voting -- 25 women members, 10 each worker members and non-Muslim members.
“A Municipal Corporation shall consist of the members directly elected on the basis of single ward and adult franchise and the following members indirectly elected by the majority of the directly elected members present and voting -- such number of women members, not exceeding 15, as the Government may notify on the basis of population of the Municipal Corporation, such worker members, not exceeding five, as the Government may notify on the basis of population of the Municipal Corporation and such non-Muslim members, not exceeding five, as the Government may notify on the basis of non-Muslim population of the Municipal Corporation.
“A Municipal Committee shall consist of the directly elected members on the basis of single ward and adult franchise and the following members elected indirectly by majority of the elected members present and voting -- such number of women members, not exceeding five, as the Government may notify on the basis of population of the Municipal Committee, such worker members, not exceeding three, as the Government may notify on the basis of population of the Municipal Corporation and such non-Muslim members, not exceeding three, as the Government may notify on the basis of non-Muslim population of the Municipal Corporation.
“The heads of these councils will be Chairman and Vice-chairman, and Mayors or Deputy Mayors to be elected by their respective houses.
“The law does not prevent a woman, peasant, worker or a non-Muslim from being a candidate or elected to a general seat in any local government.
“The law provides for District Education Authority and District Health Authority for each District.
“The law says a District Education Authority and a District Health Authority shall consist of such number of elected and other technocrat members as may be prescribed on the basis of proportion of population of the District, provided that the elected members shall be in majority.
“The members of an Authority shall be elected by the local governments in the District, other than the Union Councils, from amongst their respective members in the prescribed manner.
“The technocrat members of a District Education Authority or a District Health Authority shall have expertise in the relevant field and shall be appointed by the Government.”
The officials say that the authorities are devolving the provincial powers as local powers. But the law’s provision that the Government shall appoint the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of an Authority says otherwise.
It gives all powers to the Chairman of the Authority and the Chief Executive Officer, saying they shall be personally responsible and accountable to the “Government” for poor performance, inefficiency, loss or financial irregularity.
The law does not say whether the elections will be held on a party or non-party basis but it says they shall be conducted by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Election of members of all local governments, shall be held through secret ballot on the basis of adult franchise in such manner as may be prescribed, it says.
The law says on the expiry of the term of office of a local government, the Government may appoint an administrator to perform the functions of the local government until the elected local government assumes office which period shall not exceed six months.
It allows many upper hands to the provincial governments in the affairs of local councils. It says the Government may, on the recommendations of the Punjab Local Government Commission and by notification in the official Gazette, delegate any function of a Mayor or a Chairman to a Deputy Mayor or Vice Chairman subject to such conditions as may be prescribed in the notification.
“For each local government, except a Union Council, the Government shall appoint a Chief Officer and such number of other officers as may be prescribed.
“The Chief Officer of a local government shall be the Principal Accounting Officer of the local government and, in case of a Union Council, the Chairman of the Union Council shall be the Principal Accounting Officer.
“The Chief Officer shall ensure the coordination between the local government and the other local governments in the District and the Government.
“The Chief Officer shall be responsible for ensuring adherence by the local government to all laws, policies and oversight framework of the Government in the prescribed manner.
“The Government may, in the prescribed manner, devolve one or more of its functions to a local government for improved and efficient service delivery to the citizens. In the performance of functions, a local government shall be bound by the directions of the Government.
“The Government shall, in the prescribed manner, provide technical support and fiscal resources required for carrying out the said functions by a local government.
“The law provides for Panchayats and Musalihat Anjumans. It gives a local fund and public account. It authorizes the Local Fund Audit of the Government shall conduct audit of the local governments in the prescribed manner till the Auditor General of Pakistan assumes this function for the local governments or a set of local governments.
“The audit report of the Auditor-General shall be considered by the Public Accounts Committee of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab.
“The Government may conduct or cause to be conducted a special audit of a local government through any audit agency.
“A local government shall collect such Provincial tax or taxes within its local area as the Government may direct and the local government shall, after the collection of such tax or taxes, deposit the receipts in the relevant Government account.
“The Government may provide guidelines and render advice to a local government for achieving the objectives of Government policy and for promoting economic, social and environmental security of the Province.
“The Government may, on the recommendations of the Punjab Local Government Commission, issue directions to a local government and the local government shall be bound by such directions.
“Where the situation demands immediate action and the local government fails to comply with the directions given to it, the Government may direct the officer authorized by it to take such action as the situation may necessitate.
“The Government may, with the consent of a local government, decentralize any of its offices other than the offices already decentralized to the local government or entrust any of its functions to the local government and in that case the Government shall provide technical and administrative support and fiscal resources for the performance of such functions.
“The Government shall appoint a Provincial Local Government Commission which shall consist of a Chairman (Local Government Minister), two members from general public, one each nominated by the leader of the House and leader of the Opposition in the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, two technocrats selected by the Government, and Secretary Local Government.
“Recommendations of the Commission shall be binding on the local government failing which the Commission may report the matter with specific recommendations to the Government for an appropriate action.
“The Government may, on the recommendation of the Commission, suspend a Mayor or a Chairman for a maximum period of 90 days for fair conduct of inquiry under subsection (1) or for preventing the Mayor or Chairman from continuing with any unlawful activity during the pendency of the inquiry.
“Where, on an inquiry the Mayor, Chairman, Deputy Mayor, Vice Chairman or a member of a local government is found guilty of misconduct by the Commission, the Commission shall recommend appropriate action including removal of the Mayor or Chairman to the Government.
“The Mayor or the Chairman shall, with the approval of the local government, authorize the officials of the local government as Inspectors for enforcement of the offences specified in the Schedules.
“The prescribed officer shall be the controlling authority and administrative head of an Inspector and the Inspector shall report to the officer for the enforcement of provisions of this Chapter. The Inspectors shall impose fine on violation of any offences to be handled by the local councils through tickets.”
The law is introducing for local councils what the provincial government is delaying for itself. It is giving right to information to the citizens, saying a person may seek any information in possession of a local government.
It says every designated functionary of a local government shall, within seven days of an application, provide requisite information to the applicant on payment of such fee as may be prescribed.
It says the Government shall, in each local government, except Union Council, create a service cadre. The members of the following services shall continue to work in the local governments -- members of local council service appointed under the Punjab Local Council (Appointment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 1983, servants of the local governments appointed under the Punjab Local Council Servants (Service) Rules, 1997, employees appointed under the Punjab Local Government District Service (Tehsil/Town Municipal Administrations Cadre) Rules, 2005 and employees of the devolved departments adjusted in the local governments established under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance, 2001 (XIII of 2001).
“A local government other than a Union Council may, in the prescribed manner, absorb an employee mentioned in subsection (2) with the consent of the employee against an equivalent pay scale.
“Interim authorities.–(1)On coming into force of this Act, any office, authority or a local government established under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance, 2001 (XIII of 2001) shall continue providing services without any interruption until a local government is established under this Act for the local area.
“All functionaries of a local government established under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance, 2001 (XIII of 2001) shall continue to perform their respective duties and responsibilities with the successor local government under this Act, until transferred to any other local government.
“The Government shall appropriately re-organize the authorities, agencies and bodies of the local governments established under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance, 2001 (XIII of 2001) and decentralize such authorities, agencies and bodies to the local governments established under this Act.”