Restoration of local governments: LG&CD dept grapples with implications of Supreme Court order

Published March 31, 2021
The Supreme Court of Pakistan last week ordered restoration of the local government institutions in Punjab, declaring their dissolution as unconstitutional. — AFP/File
The Supreme Court of Pakistan last week ordered restoration of the local government institutions in Punjab, declaring their dissolution as unconstitutional. — AFP/File

LAHORE: The Punjab Local Government and Community Development (LG&CD) Department is in a fix over the implementation of a recent Supreme Court short order restoring the local government institutions, as it sees massive administrative and financial complexities ahead.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan last week ordered restoration of the local government institutions in Punjab, declaring their dissolution as unconstitutional. The court declared Section 3 of the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA)-2019 ultra vires to the Constitution.

Since the local governments created under PLGA-2013 have their legal term till Dec 31 this year, the LG&CD department seems confounded as it is now supposed to undo all the structural changes in the local governments introduced under PLGA-2019 – and then restore them to the current position within a few months.

Under the PLGA 2019, the Punjab government had carved out nine metropolitan corporations, instead of one, besides 17 municipal corporations, instead of the 11 mentioned in the 2013 act. Similarly, the government slashed the number of municipal committees from 182 to 133 and created 11 more tehsil committees.

The 35 district councils that existed in the 2013 act were also abolished and the 2019 act had created 136 tehsil councils.

Sources in the chief minister’s secretariat told Dawn that the LG&CD department had moved a summary explaining that restoring local government institutions in the presence of PLGA-2019would be an exercise in futility as it entailed restoration of the previous local governments by demolishing the newly-created LG structure, and then bringing the same back on Jan 1, next year.

The summary pointed out that under the new act, the Punjab government had established new offices, increased employees’ base, opened bank accounts, transferred huge funds, awarded contracts for execution of development works and schemes with respect to service infrastructure in the changed boundaries of the local institutions. The funds in most cases have now been consumed.

In the next financial year, it would again be a mess to transfer funds to local governments under the PLGA-2013, and as the dust of the whole exercise would settle, the term of the restored local governments would be over. “Hence, restoration of local governments constituted under the PLGA-2013 has created many anomalies and much has to be done to remove the said anomalies keeping in view that the PLGA-2013 stands already repealed vide section 312 (1) of PLGA- 2019,” the department says in the summary.

Sources state that the LG&CD department has sought permission from the Punjab government to move a review petition to explain to the Supreme Court the administrative and financial hurdles in the restoration of old local governments with a commitment that the new LG elections would be held in the shortest possible time.

The summary stated the LG&CD department was of the view that the Supreme Court had declared only section 3 of the PLGA-2019 ultra vires to the Constitution and the remaining provisions of the law were still in force, insisting that the government had not been stopped from implementing its provisions relating to the delimitation of village councils and neighbourhood councils under section 15A of the PLGA-2019 by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

However, the election of the succeeding local governments could be conducted only after expiry of the term of these bodies constituted under the PLGA-2013.

In this situation, the department has also proposed to the chief minister that it might be allowed to complete the process of delimitation of village and neighbourhood councils through the ECP to ensure timely conduct of elections for the succeeding local governments soon after the expiry of term of those constituted under PLGA-2013, as restored by the Supreme Court. The department now awaits directions from the chief executive of the province.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2021

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