LAHORE: A dialogue attended by economists, representatives of defunct local governments and students blamed judiciary and major political parties for damaging the local government system across the country, depriving people at large of their fundamental right.

“After the (PTI) government made the local government system dysfunctional abruptly in early 2019, we approached local courts and later the Supreme Court.

Finally the apex court said in 2021 that the five-year tenure of the local governments, which started on Jan 1, 2017, has been completed,” said Rana Sikandar, former chairman of the Kasur Zila council, during a question-answer session after a day-long dialogue on revitalising local governments.

It was organized jointly by the United States Institute of Peace, Dehleez, a non-govt organisation, the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Institute of Development & Economic Alternatives.

“We fulfilled our duty to save the system by challenging the unconstitutional act of the then government but to no avail,” he said, questioning that how the local government system could sustain in such an environment.

Nawazish Ali Peerzada, a leading lawyer and expert on the local government system system, said the apex court was not ready to give them any relief.

Earlier, the session opened with presence-on-video call of the former federal minister for finance Miftah Ismail from Karachi, Dr Ali Cheema (economist), Abdul Rehman Warraich (former DG, debt policy) and few others.

Terming the system vital for economic uplift of a common man, Miftah Ismail said most districts in Punjab were not competitive to each other due to so-called powers and funds devolved to the local governments.

He was of the view that the reason behind progress of the developed nations was the effective local government system having adequate administrative and financial powers.

“Though I remained MNA twice, a majority of my voters were more concerned about their local issues related to drainage, roads, sewerage, water and security,” he explained.

The former minister was of the view that the provinces must limit them to regulatory affairs. Similarly, the federation should see the health and education alone.

The former finance minister also criticised the political parties for not strengthening the local government system.

Speaking on the occasion, Abdul Rehman Warraich said policy biases had disrupted the revenue collection in the country.

Dr Ali Cheema termed the local government system “toothless with hands tied before a powerful provincial system led by the bureaucracy that doesn’t want to transfer financial and administrative powers to the local governments.

The local government system in Pakistan is helpless before the powers of DCs and ACs.” .

Ms Miraj, an urban expert, explained the local government system in France, US, Canada and UK and sought learning from them to develop a sustainable local government system in Pakistan. Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2023

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