ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was on Friday requested to direct the Punjab government to empower the local governments so that the institutions could fulfil their mandatory obligation under Article 140 of the Constitution.
A petition moved by retired Col Mubashar Javed, mayor of the Metropolitan Corporation Lahore (MCL), through his counsel Mubeenuddin Qazi, pleaded to restrain the Punjab government, which was contemplating dissolving the local governments pre-maturely before the completion of their five-year term, from doing so.
Mr Javed, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, was elected mayor unopposed. He assumed his office on Jan 1, 2017.
The petition stated that instead of empowering the local governments in the province under Article 140A of the Constitution, the Punjab government initiated usurping and encroaching upon the functions, power and authority of the local governments, especially those of the MCL, by denuding of the powers and authority vested in these bodies.
It said the devolved powers of the local governments were being abridged, diluted and impeded by the provincial government through the civil administrating and other unelected government servants/administrators as well as the authorities/companies like LDA, WASA, TEPA, PHA, LWMC etc in violation of Article 140.
According to petition, the office of the Local Government and Community Development Department (LG&CD) secretary has almost paralysed the democratic working of MCL as well as other local governments through issuance of verbal instructions / orders to the senior officers / staff of the local government.
The petition requested the apex court to declare void and illegal any attempt by the provincial government to establish a new local government system by replacing the existing elected local government system or unilaterally change the extent of devolution of political, administrative and financial powers without taking on board the main stakeholders, i.e. existing elected local governments.
The petition argued that the illegal, unconstitutional, unwarranted and mala fide assumption of power and actions allegedly by the Punjab government, LG&CD, housing, urban development and public health engineering department and the Lahore Development Authority caused grave miscarriage of justice to the elected representatives of the local governments.
The petitioner said he was mandated by his electorate to preserve and maintain the authority and the sanctity of the devolution process as provided in the law, protected by the constitution and fortified by the Supreme Court. The petitioner argued he was entitled to approach the apex court for the enforcement of the rights of his electorates.
The petition also asked the apex court to order handing over the administrative control of the authorities and the public sector companies established by the provincial government, during the period when the elected local governments were not installed, for exercising the exclusive powers and functions of the local governments.
The Supreme Court was requested to also order ensuring political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority devolved on the local governments under the Punjab Local Government Act, 2013 and Article 140-A of the Constitution.
The petitioner also urged the court to order the provincial government to let the existing local governments complete their existing term from the date they held their first meeting and until the successor local government assumed their offices in the public interest.
Likewise, the petition added, the provincial government should also be refrained from abridging, diluting and impeding the developed powers and authority of the elected MCL and other local governments through civil administration or other unelected officials of the government servants.
The petition said the provincial government should be asked to avoid by-passing the mayors and chairmen through issuance of instructions to the officers and staff of the local governments through verbal orders or direct written correspondence.
It argued that the provincial government should desist from making the local governments dysfunctional by engaging the staff of the local governments with their own offices during the office hours without obtaining prior consent or permission of the elected mayors or chairmen of the local governments.
The petition sought a direction to the government against withholding the transfer of local government funds or grants, especially the development funds. It demanded that the government be ordered not to prohibit execution of the development schemes by the local governments.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2019