Elaborate changes slow down LG restoration process

Published October 5, 2021
Punjab Law Minister Basharat Raja addresses a press conference in Lahore in this file photo. ─ DawnNewsTV
Punjab Law Minister Basharat Raja addresses a press conference in Lahore in this file photo. ─ DawnNewsTV

LAHORE: The provincial government seems ‘reluctantly restoring’ the local government institutions in line with the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA) 2013 as asked by the Supreme Court, since it is executing the reversal process at a snail’s pace.

The Punjab Cabinet Committee on Legislative Business has now reviewed the Local Government & Community Development (LG&CD) department’s transition plan from PLGA 2019 to PLGA 2013. It is now moving the transition plan to the Punjab cabinet for final nod for implementation in line with the SC order.

The Supreme Court had issued a short order on March 25 and detailed judgement on July 6 to restore the local bodies’ institutions under PLGA-2013 after the court declared their dissolution as unconstitutional. The legal term of the LG institutions, created under PLGA-2013, will conclude on Dec 31 this year.

Law minister Basharat Raja agrees that there is a very little time left to implement the massive transition plan that requires structural and administrative changes as well as financial implications running in billions of rupees. “The transition plan was presented before the legislative committee and has been approved after giving some final touches,” Mr Raja told Dawn and added that the final plan would be sent to the Punjab cabinet for approval [for implementation].

The Punjab government, meanwhile, says it is constantly engaging with the SC and the Lahore High Court and conducting the ‘laborious’ exercise of undoing the administrative and structural changes that would again be required to undo from Jan 1, 2022.

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.

Considering massive changes introduced under the PLGA 2019, the local government department had soon afterwards filed a review petition and begun wait for the detailed judgement that was eventually issued on July 6. The department’s review petition has so far not been taken up.

Sources say the department wants to contest its case on the plea that the massive exercise of undoing the system under PLGA 2019 would be required to reverse yet again after a few months. Suggesting that the entire exercise would also consume a lot of public money and time, sources say the department wants that the court might order LG elections at the earliest so that the new system could come into place.

As the former officials [holding the LG offices] were actively pursuing their cases in the courts as well as with the Punjab government and legal time frame of PLGA-2013 was fast coming to an end, sources say the government got convinced that the transition plan should be implemented in line with the SC order.

Sources say the latest cabinet committee meeting even discussed that the former officials would not be able to do much, if restored to their offices. But, sources say, they will be in a position to humiliate the Punjab government in many ways, if [2013 Act] institutions were not restored.

Seeing the government was continuously delaying the restoration of LG institutions and the LG&CD department had again sought another two weeks for cabinet’s formal nod before the LHC last week, the legal team for the LG representatives contended that the government was now seeking more time and [it] sought contempt proceedings against the government authorities.

When contacted, LG&CD secretary Noorul Amin Mengal says the department had moved a summary to the chief minister for the PLGA 2013 transition plan in the midst of September, which was referred to the cabinet committee on legislative business for a final review. After committee’s review, he says the transition plan is now being referred to the Punjab cabinet for a final nod.

Mr Mengal acknowledges that the department initially looked for a detailed judgement that took three months. As soon as the detailed judgement came, he says the department worked day and night and held ‘hundreds of meetings’ to prepare and finalise the transition plan.

He says the stakeholders, including opposition party members and former Lahore city’s lord mayor retired Col Mubashir Javed, were engaged and explained the changes as well as financial liabilities and complexities with regard to the ongoing development projects and their payments. Stating that the meetings’ minutes were approved by all stakeholders, Mr Mengal says the department did not waste a single day since the SC issued its detailed judgement on July 6. He also says the SC had protected the PLGA-2019 but declared its Section 3 ultra vires to the Constitution.

To a question, the secretary says only a one-line notification would suffice to restore the [PLGA 2013] LG institutions after the Punjab cabinet’s approval.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021

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