After SC rebuke, Punjab restores local bodies as per 2013 law

Published October 19, 2021
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar convenes a meeting on Monday to approve functionalising of local bodies. — Photo via Govt of Punjab Twitter
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar convenes a meeting on Monday to approve functionalising of local bodies. — Photo via Govt of Punjab Twitter

LAHORE: The Usman Buzdar administration in Punjab has reluctantly restored the local governments (LGs) in the province to comply with a Supreme Court order, subject to the outcome of its petitions seeking a review of the judgement.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Punjab government had dissolved the local bodies constituted under the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA) 2013 in May 2019 soon after coming to power.

The former local government representatives have now taken over their offices. Lahore Mayor retired Col Mubashir Javed, soon after assuming the office, called a dengue review meeting. He also asked the finance officer to present details of different expenditures so that he could check the record of completed and ongoing projects under the LG laws.

Chief Minister Buzdar also convened a meeting on Monday and approved functionalising of the local bodies. He directed the department concerned to notify the restoration of PLGA 2013 and withdraw administrators.

The local government department consequently notified: “Pursuant to short order dated March 25, 2021 of Supreme Court and detailed judgement in July 2021 and notifications of constitution of local governments under the PLGA-2019 are hereby withdrawn, with immediate effect, subject to outcome of review petitions filed by the Punjab government, pending adjudication before the Supreme Court.”

The PTI government had superseded the PLGA 2013 by promulgating the PLGA 2019 and the CM had immediately appointed LG administrators on May 4, 2019 – some 30 months ahead of completion of the tenure of LG representatives mostly belonging to the PML-N.

The administrators appointed to run the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation, municipal corporations, district councils, municipal corporations and committees and union councils had been directed to perform all duties and exercise all powers of the respective mayor, deputy mayor, chairman and vice chairman as the case may be.

The administrators continued exercising these powers for over 29 months, including the seven months since the Supreme Court had issued a short order on March 25 declaring PLGA 2019’s Section 3 ultra vires to the Constitution.

The Punjab government initially delayed implementation of the Supreme Court order on the pretext that it was waiting for the detailed judgement, and later that it had filed a review petition after the detailed verdict was issued in July.

It swiftly restored the local bodies only after the apex court expressed dismay over non-compliance with its March 25 order, and summoned both the incumbent as well as the former chief secretaries of Punjab.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmad had censured Punjab Local Government Secretary Noorul Amin Mengal that he had no idea about the local bodies despite being the secretary. “Are you here in the court for fun?” the CJP had questioned, while cautioning Mengal that the court could send him to jail from the courtroom. The CJP was also unhappy that the government had failed to implement the court order.

The dissolved LG representatives had approached the court soon after dissolution of PLGA 2013 and got relief from the apex court early this year.

Since the Punjab government believes the local governments’ tenure under PLGA 2013 will conclude on Dec 31, Faisalabad Mayor Razzaq Malik has filed a petition before the Lahore High Court urging it to direct the government to issue a notification to extend their tenure by 24 months -- the period the petitioner remained out of office of mayor. He also urged the court to restrain the government from holding LG elections till expiry of the petitioner’s tenure.

Under the now-withdrawn administrators, the Punjab local government department was running development schemes worth Rs10 billion across the province and Mr Mengal says the government had already engaged the stakeholders, including opposition party members and the now-reinstated Lord Mayor retired Col Mubashir Javed, and explained to them the massive administrative and structural changes as well as financial liabilities and complexities regarding the ongoing development projects and their payments.

Mr Mengal says the government has already got minutes of the meetings approved by all stakeholders as a precaution so the LG representatives did not block the ongoing schemes or payments to the contractors working across the province.

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, it had slashed the number of municipal committees from 182 to 133 and created 11 more tehsil committees. The 35 district councils that existed under the 2013 act were also abolished and the 2019 act had created 136 such councils.

In the latest budget, the Punjab government had announced a Rs360-billion District Development Package to be executed over the next three years. For the ongoing year, it allocated Rs99bn that was largely being spent by the communication and works, public health engineering, local government, school education, primary healthcare as well as specialised healthcare departments.

The communication and works department is constructing major roads some of which cost at least Rs1.7bn. The LG department is, however, executing small schemes across the province that cost a total of Rs10bn.

In the second year, the development package will allocate Rs150bn and Rs110bn in the third year.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2021

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