LAHORE: The Punjab government has drafted a voluminous and restrictive new local government law, providing for proportionate representation-based elections and an elaborate anti-corruption mechanism.
The rough draft of the proposed law suggests re-introduction of the urban-rural divide introduced by former president retired Gen Musharraf in a 2001 law and eliminated by former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif in a new law in 2013.
The 312-article proposed law provides for active participation of citizens in the affairs of local councils, establishment of joint authorities for performing various functions, authorising the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold party-based elections, and giving a four-year term to the local bodies. It makes it clear that the existing local councils will cease to exist immediately after its enactment.
Officials on Tuesday said the draft was pending a review by Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat to whom it was sent a few days ago.
Inspectorate proposed to monitor local govts to ensure they act in public interest
The draft law is aimed at creating local governments in Punjab for effective discharge of municipal and “designated non-municipal” services. It says that as soon as may be, but not later than one year of its commencement, the government shall constitute succeeding (new) local governments. It also states that every local government shall function within the framework of the province. None of them shall act in a manner that impedes or challenges executive authority of the province.
Within six months after the commencement of this Act, the government shall divide the areas comprising Punjab, excluding areas notified as cantonments, into urban and rural, and name them. All areas comprising the district of Lahore shall be the local area for Lahore Metropolitan Corporation.
An area which displays distinct urban features may be classified as metropolitan, municipal corporation, municipal committee and town area. Every 10 years, all local areas will be reviewed. A special review could also be made under directions from the provincial government.
The government could also divide a local government into two or more local governments or join two or more local governments into one or alter the limits or class of a local government.
The head of the local government shall be the leader of the council. But the administration shall be headed by a chief officer who shall, along with other officers, be appointed by the government. Each council shall consist of such number of general councillors and those representing women, religious minorities and other special interests. Women and minorities could also take part in the general local elections.
The law authorises the government to assign any function to any local council that is out of its ambit. It empowers the government to issue policy directions, regulations, standing instructions and guidelines to local governments.
The draft law says that the head of the local government, the council or any of its committee or sub-committee may direct, guide or supervise but not directly engage in the discharge of a function of the local government.
The council and its committees and sub-committees shall act through resolutions. A councillor shall not direct or attempt to direct an officer or servant of a local government, or direct or attempt to direct in the manner in which the duties of an officer or servant duties shall be performed.
The chief officer shall be the principal officer of the local government and all other officers and servants of that local government shall be subordinate to him. He shall also maintain financial and administrative discipline, enter into and manage all contracts, undertake all procurements, assist relevant authorities in circumstances of emergency and perform such other duties assigned to him by the government, head of the local government, council or a committee of the local government.
The local elections shall be conducted on closed list proportional representation basis through secret ballot. The head of the local government, convener and councillors, except councillors to the seats reserved for religious minorities, shall be elected by all voters of the respective electoral unit.
Councillors to the seats reserved for religious minorities shall be elected by voters belonging to all religious minorities of the respective electoral unit.
Every local government shall, unless it is dissolved earlier, continue for four years.
The law provides for the creation of the inspectorate of local governments for the inspection, monitoring, reviewing and reporting on the performance of the local governments in Punjab. It authorises the government to supervise and hold general control over the local governments to ensure that they always act in the public interest and perform their functions strictly in accordance with the provisions of this Act and all other relevant laws for the time being in force.
It binds the local councils to involve all residents in their respective areas in running their affairs, and frequently consult them on the level, quality, range and impact of services. Every resident will have the right to contribute to the running of the affairs of respective local government, and demand a peep into their matters.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2019