LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly on Tuesday passed the new Punjab Local Government Bill 2019 within one hour with a majority vote of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insad members after Law Minister Raja Basharat and Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi knocked out the opposition on technical grounds, bringing an end to the existing local councils dominated by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
The bill was introduced in the house only eight days ago.
The PTI government also got passed the Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Bill 2019 in just 10 minutes in the absence of the opposition that had staged a boycott after it could not oppose the local government bill.
Opposition leader Hamza Shahbaz sat in the house, silently watching the proceedings before taking his team out of the house in protest.
Law envisages two-tier LG system under which panchayat/neighbourhood councils will be elected on a non-party basis
Chief Minister Usman Buzdar ensured quorum before the session began much later than its scheduled time, also guiding his comrades on the legislation while presiding over a meeting in the assembly cafeteria.
The panchayats and neighbourhood councils to be set up under the new law would serve as the second tier of the new two-tier local government system.
The law minister told reporters after the session was concluded that the existing local councils would legally be wrapped up after completion of the remaining legislative procedure that included signatures by the governor. “We will have this completed at the earliest,” he said.
Chief Minister Buzdar, who watched the proceedings from his chambers in the assembly, while talking to media persons said that the government would ensure local government elections under the new law. Till then the new system would be run by administrators to be appointed from among the civil servants, he said.
“Let them (the opposition) challenge the law in the court,” he said while replying to a question, also announcing establishment of south Punjab civil secretariat after the provincial budget was passed.
Opposition Leader Hamza Shahbaz said the government had got the local government bill passed unilaterally and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz would challenge it in the court as the “impulsive people” had wrapped up a system that was serving people at grassroots level. He said the new law had “killed” the mandate of the local councils which had 60,000 members elected by people
The opposition was not allowed to oppose the local government bill or present amendments to it as the law minister said these should have been submitted to the assembly secretariat within two days of submission of the report by the standing committee to which the bill had been referred by the speaker for perusal.
Explaining salient features of the local government law, the chief minister told reporters that under it, 33 per cent of the provincial budget would be given to the local councils. He rejected the idea that salaries of the staff required to run the new huge set-up would devour the provincial budget and said local elections would be held within a year.
Raja Basharat said tehsil councils in rural areas and municipal councils and corporations in urban areas would be the first tier of the news system. The second tier would be panchayat councils in rural areas and neighbourhood councils in urban areas.
He said tehsil and municipal councils would be elected through party-based direct elections, but elections to panchayat and neighbourhood councils would be held on a non-party basis.
For the first time in the provincial history, funds would be directly transferred to panchayat and neighbourhood councils, he said. All allied institutions and departments like the Lahore Development Authority, Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency and Water and Sanitation Agency would function under local governments.
When his attention was drawn to the opposition’s plan to challenge the law in court, he said legislation was the basic right of the provincial assembly and in his view no court could deny it.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2019
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