ISLAMABAD: Provincial governments’ reported resistance to empower recently elected local bodies attracted attention of the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali ordered the federal and provincial governments to submit reports about functioning or non-functioning of local governments in the provinces, 43 cantonments boards and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

The court issued the order after Advocate Raja Rab Nawaz drew its attention to lack of authority vested in local governments although their elections had been held under Article 140A of the Constitution.

The elections were held on the order of the Supreme Court, but no powers have been given to the elected institutions for their independent functioning. Even oaths have not been taken in many local government institutions.

Mr Rab Nawaz, as a former vice president of the Cantonment Board, Quetta, had in 2009 challenged before the Supreme Court the absence of local governments in cantonment areas and the court ordered the government to immediately hold local government elections not only in all provinces but also in cantonment areas and ICT. The government complied with the order, though reluctantly.

During Wednesday’s proceedings the chief justice remarked, “We do not need showpieces without any powers.” Even the legislators sitting in the assemblies, he said, had realised the importance of local government elections.

“It is not only the oath but a matter of delegation of powers,” Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed quipped.

In its order the court said that Rab Nawaz had raised important questions of law because of the casual attitude adopted by provincial governments, cantonment boards and ICT on delegating powers to local bodies.

The order asked the advocates general of all provinces and secretaries of local bodies, ICT and cantonment boards to submit a comprehensive reply about functioning or non-functioning of local governments.

On Dec 9 last year, speakers at an inter-provincial roundtable organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency in Islamabad on local government laws had called for giving financial independence to local bodies to make the system meaningful.

Representatives of different political parties have called for keeping local governments free from the control of provincial governments, which can be done only by devolving financial, political and administrative powers.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2016

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