PESHAWAR, Oct 10: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s plan to establish 4,000 village councils under the new local government plan is a recipe for increasing the province’s administrative costs manifold and thus, leaving its financial viability open to question.
The proposed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act 2013, under consideration of the provincial assembly, envisages taking down the local government to village level, replacing union councils.
There are 986 union councils in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, involving a population size of up to 25,000 people per union council.
However, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf led provincial government has decided to take the local government to village level with a view to increase public participation in governance, policy making, and development planning.
Each village council, said an official, will involve two or more villages. Each one of the village councils and neighbourhood councils will involve a total of 2000 to 10,000 population size, according to the proposed local government act.
The decision is not without financial implications for the provincial kitty, according to knowledgeable circles.
Under the current scheme of things, each union council involves an office secretary, a government employee responsible to main official record, look after birth registration, prepare and maintain annual budget statements.
“Since the number of village councils is set to be four times more than the number of union councils, this would mean the number of office secretaries would grow in equal proportion,” said an official.
The proposed law envisages a ban on new employment, recommending that people, wherever needed, would be provided from among the surplus staff.
“If there are 986 secretaries under the current system, in future there would be 4,000 secretaries, which would increase the direct costs,” said a financial expert.
Similarly, all village councils will also require an office building or a meeting place where the council members would hold their council meetings.
“Office buildings would be arranged either on rental basis or will have to be constructed,” said a political observer.
An Islamabad based employee of a non-governmental organisation, when contacted, said the new law envisaged greater public involvement in the local government affairs, entailing greater decentralisation.
“This a new experience, which is also a challenge,” said the activist, pointing out that resources would be difficult to arrange for such a large extension.
In his budget speech, provincial Finance Minister Sirajul Haq had announced a plan to develop 11,000 villages in the province.
He had said the European Union had assured to provide Rs1 billion for the development of Malakand division. He had said the provincial government would also provide Rs500 million as counterpart funding.
However, the EU assistance and the government’s Rs500 allocation is Malakand division specific.
According to official circles, the provincial government does not know the financial costs involved in arranging offices and office equipment for 4,000 village and neighbourhood councils.
Under the existing system, union council members received honorarium on monthly basis.
“The money paid to the councilors was not mentioned in the law, but the previous governments paid a negligible honorarium of around Rs1,000 per month per councilor,” said a source.
The government’s expenditure on this count, said the source, would grow substantially as the number of councilors would also increase manifold. There would be 10 to 15 councilors in every village and neighbourhood council. At present, each of the union council contains 13 councilors.
The challenge, according to information gathered from different sources, appears to be much larger in scale. The previous provincial government had attempted in vain to computerise birth registration at the union council level. Some 900 computers had been bought for the purpose. However, its effort remained far from being a success. The union councils’ secretaries were not computer literate as a result the huge investment made in purchasing the computers was compromised.
Under the new plan, the provincial government would need to arrange computers and printers for all the 4,000 village and neighbourhood councils, requiring an investment of hundreds of millions of rupees.
The creation of so many entities at the grassroots level, according to sources, would also complicate development planning and the money spent at the union council level.
“This would thin out the development funds previously provided to union councils for planning and executing their area specific small development schemes,” said a development planner.
Another source said until now each of the 986 union councils received around Rs500,000 on average for small development works.
“If out of 1,000 union councils each one got Rs500,000, now, since there would be 4,000 village councils, each one of them would get Rs125,000” said the planner, adding that “with this money what would they do?”
Sources said the success of the new system would largely depend on the provincial government’s ability and capacity to provide finances to the local governments.
“Unless the government increased funding for the local governments, the new system would be limping,” said an official.