LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government is going to introduce a two-tier local government system in Punjab and two other provinces with all-powerful mayors, huge development funds and control over many departments.

Punjab has proposed elimination of the tehsil council level in the proposed new set-up. In that case, it will only have district and union councils. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s proposal is to retain only tehsil and village councils. Office of the mayor will be designed on the model of London or Washington, meaning a powerful mayor, sources said.

A decision to this effect was taken on Saturday at a meeting in Islamabad attended by representatives from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The final decision will be taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan soon, sources told Dawn.

Local bodies to be given one-third of development budget, mayors elected directly

The local government would, as agreed, be given one-third of the province’s total annual development budget that would be distributed among the local councils as per their eligibility. The mayors would be elected directly with the entire district as the electoral college, not the house. The idea is that people should be allowed to elect a mayor of their choice.

The division between urban and rural areas of a district reintroduced by the previous Shahbaz Sharif government will remain intact. Local government elections will be held on party basis, as non-party polls are not possible under the Lahore High Court’s decision in the Imrana Tiwana case. Non-party elections are not even allowed under Article 140 of the Constitution.

Like the local government system of 2001, the powers of over 20 departments will be transferred to district governments, including tourism, transport and sports. The district-level management of these three departments will be transferred to the district governments for the first time in history.

The local governments will be given powers of executive magistrates to enforce local and special laws to handle profiteering, adulteration, encroachments, tampered weights and measures and recovery of municipal taxes and bills.

At present, an overwhelming majority of mayors and local council members belonged to the PML-N, but the law under which they were elected -- Local Government Act 2013 -- gave them no powers. Even the local functions in big cities such as Lahore were being handled by companies created by the former Punjab government. Officials say that law contains no provision under which the councils can be suspended or dismissed; they will cease to exist only after the PTI government introduces a new law.

Sources said that Punjab offered to do away with the middle tier of tehsil councils in view of the problems faced under the Musharraf-era local government system. The absence of check and balance mainly led to corruption and mismanagement in these councils, which in fact were the backbone of the system.

They said that the new system would be designed after taking positive bits from both the devolution-based Local Government Ordinance 2001 and Local Government Act 2013. But the 2001 law would remain dominant.

The sources further said the federal government wanted to replace union councils in Punjab with village councils as those in KP. But the proposal was rejected by a committee in Punjab working on the issue under Governor Chaudhry Sarwar. The committee comprised federal ministers Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Fawad Chaudhry, and provincial ministers Raja Basharat and Aleem Khan. The reason for rejection was that Punjab would not be able to handle village councils owing to management issues. There were 4,105 union councils in Punjab and 20,000 villages.

The sources said it was yet to be seen whether deputy commissioners whose office stands independent of the mayor in the present system will continue the same way or be placed under the mayors.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018