New governance regime -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

New governance regime

By S.R. Mahboob

THE local government ordinance (LGO) was promulgated in all the provinces in 2001 with much fanfare.

This law was different from previous ones as it combined local governance and administrative functions at the local levels by establishing three independent tiers of union administration, tehsil municipal administration and district governments.

While the first two tiers focused on municipal functions, the third tier replaced provincial government at the district level. Over three dozen provincial government departments were clubbed together in 11 groups of offices and placed under district governments. District- and tehsil-level civil servants were made subordinate to elected heads of local governments.

Financial and planning functions were completely devolved through a comprehensive mechanism of formula-based resource transfer to all districts. All tiers of local governments were fully authorised to plan and implement their own budgets as per their respective priorities.

International development partners heralded unprecedented opportunities of social mobilisation in the form of 6,000 local governments across Pakistan (and tens of thousands of nazims, naib nazims and councillors) and invested several hundred million dollars of technical assistance grants and development policy loans.

However, many of the perceived blessings of the governance framework turned into a nightmare when it came to implementation. To begin with, the ‘original sin’ of completely ignoring the provincial governments’ views during the designing phase of LGO 2001 led to a coordination and communication crisis. The artificial elimination of the urban-rural divide in TMAs overlooked the specialised resource and regulatory requirements of the urban areas as resources were divided mechanically between urban and rural union councils.

The delegation of service delivery functions without having the requisite capacity at different levels resulted in falling standards. Social regulation suffered badly as locally elected leaders had no incentive to enforce laws. Encroachments, adulteration, profiteering, etc resulted.

Lastly, the subjugation of public functionaries to elected representatives (otherwise laudable) reduced the chances of systemic checks and balances leading to collusion in corruption. No wonder that these limitations coupled with the LGO’s naïve assumptions regarding administration enhanced the trust deficit between the local governments and the provincial administration. Any dividends of enhanced accountability, grass-root empowerment, participatory development and gender mainstreaming were largely offset by institutional failure, outright corruption and resource wastage.

Following elections in 2008, an indepth review of LGO 2001, based on empirical and anecdotal evidence, was initiated. However, other matters (politics, security issues, power crisis etc) often strained the capabilities of the provincial governments to come up with a strong, coherent answer to LGO 2001.

The best that could be done was to get the sitting local governments to pack up in early 2010 and put in their place administrators to manage the interregnum. However, the appointment of administrators was obviously a temporary solution that would soon need to be replaced with a permanent one.

What next? Several options can be exercised at this moment. Provincial governments may want to revert to LGO 1979. However, there could be serious problems due to the changed realities of urban governance since 1979. An effort to tackle municipal issues with an extremely simplistic framework conceived three decades ago could be unproductive in the larger provinces.

Another option may be to continue with the LGO 2001 framework. However, this option may not be feasible on the basis of the poor governance evidenced between 2001 and 2008. The inherent problems associated with LGO 2001 (flawed urban-rural amalgamation, lack of functional linkages, huge establishment, weak regulatory and enforcement mechanisms) render this option unworkable. This leaves decision-makers with the third option – retaining the positive aspects of LGO 2001 while removing problematic provisions.
Any future strategy would be well advised to consider some of the following policy choices.

Firstly, the elimination of urban-rural divide needs to be addressed by dividing existing TMAs into predominantly urban and rural municipalities separately as per their peculiar requirements. Secondly, large urban centres, like Lahore, would need to have a unified urban governance framework with clear delineation between agencies, authorities or departments.

The existing system where several agencies are performing the same functions with zero linkages must be discarded immediately. Similarly, linkages between different tiers of local and provincial government for coordination and staffing issues at the district or tehsil level needs to be defined. Lastly, a decision regarding the future shape of the district set-up needs to be taken.

Existing district coordination officers and a rationalised number of executive district officers may continue to constitute the district administration. Alternatively, provincial governments may decide to segregate the district administration from the local government set-up by reintroducing the office of the deputy commissioner with the powers of the land revenue collector. (The revival of the executive magistracy is a different, yet related, issue that will need the assent of the federal government.)

It is important to remember that restructuring the LGO 2001 regime would be an enormous task and the advantages of it, after almost seven years of government support and donor funding, may no longer be available. Any meaningful review of LGO 2001 would need legislation, administrative reorganisation, asset redistribution, staff reshuffling and financing of massive proportions.

The best that could be prescribed would be an incremental, pragmatic yet technically sound transformation to a new local governance regime that captures positive aspects of LGO 2001 and takes out its obvious failings. It will be a disservice to the common citizens if a Pandora’s box of complex local governance reforms were to be opened without realising the enormity of the task and with less than 100 per cent clarity on future direction.
Source: The News