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LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to give final approval to the basic structure of the new local government systems in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Saturday as Balochistan has reportedly opted not to join the scheme.

Major features of the new local government system had been agreed upon in the previous meeting which the prime minister presided over last week in Islamabad. But the final approval to the structure of the new local government system was yet to be accorded by Mr Khan, official sources informed Dawn on Tuesday, adding the premier might do so on Saturday.

The sources said Balochistan appeared not interested in having a new local government system as desired by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s central government. The province’s representatives did not attend the last two meetings on the topic held in Islamabad and had conveyed that the issue would be decided by the provincial assembly.

“This means that the PTI-designed local government system would be enforced only in KP and Punjab. The spirit of the new system would be the same but both the provinces would have its different features best suited to their respective needs, they said.

Officials said there had been an overall agreement that the new local governments in Punjab and KP would be transferred provincial powers. The new system would be a two-tier mechanism, unlike the three-tier local governments of the Musharraf era, they added. And there would no duplication of work in both the tiers.

For example, they said, union councils would handle sanitation, streetlight and sewerage, whereas the district council would deal with basic health and education facilities.

Punjab was advocating for district and union councils, whereas Balochistan desired tehsil and village councils. Punjab was being asked to also replace union councils with village councils but it was resisting the move on the ground that it would cost dearly. The present cost of running 4,687 union councils was Rs7 billion which would double in case of village councils. There were around 20,000 villages in Punjab and the proposal was to create a village council comprising 10,000 rural population.

There was an agreement on party-based local elections in Punjab, while the polls might be sans parties in KP, they said.

The officials said the health and education authorities in Punjab would continue to function but under the local governments with a new shape.

There is an agreement on giving one third of the total provincial development budget to local councils, while one third of this allocation will be reserved for union or village councils. There is a debate on who will write the annual confidential reports (ACRs) of the deputy commissioner (DC), superintendent of police (SP) and above officers in the districts. The ACRs of all the remaining officials under the DC and SP will be written by the nazim or mayor.

There is also an agreement on direct election of nazim or mayor in Punjab. The electorate for the office will be the entire district, while the candidates will contest election in a panel for the seats of the deputies. Each deputy will represent one tehsil in every district and will be elected by the voters of that specific tehsil or town. Heads of union or village councils will be the members of the district assembly.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2018