MQM (P) organised a conference in Karachi with the theme ‘” Independent Districts: Strong Pakistan’ which basically related to empowering the local governments. The event was attended by politicians, social workers, journalists, lawyers and businessmen. The MQM leaders proposed that like the powers of Chief Ministers and Prime Minister the powers of the local government representatives should also be written in the constitution; Provincial Finance Commissions should work like National Finance Commission and holding of general elections should be subject to the presence of local governments. They reiterated that decentralisation of powers was absolutely imperative for which comprehensive constitutional amendments were needed to he effected.
The leaders of difference political parties and journalists who spoke on the occasion were also unanimous on the point that empowering the local bodies was absolutely essential and until and unless it was done the politics of the country would remain in a state of chaos. Putting the country on the path or real development was only possible by strengthening the local governments.
Nobody can take an issue with what transpired at the conference. Like the constitutions of modern democratic states Pakistan’s constitution also stipulates three-tier system of governance i.e. local government, provincial government and the federal government. Local Bodies are meant to deliver to the people at the grass-root level. Our constitution is very clear on the powers of the local governments. Article 140 A reads “Each province shall, by law establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments” Under this article the local administration is supposed to be under the elected people at the district level who are responsible for overseeing the administration, carrying out development projects and imbued with the powers to generate financial resources of their own. Article 175 also prescribes separation of judiciary from administration within 14 years of the promulgation of the constitution which regrettably has not been done as yet. The separation of judiciary and administration if carried out would also strengthen the local governments.
In my view in the presence of Article 140A and Article 175 there is no need for any further amendment in the constitution but ensuing its implementation in letter and spirit. Regrettably while the federal and provincial governments have been functioning un-interrupted both under civilian and military rules, it were only the latter who installed systems of local governments during their rules, though not as envisaged in the constitution but with the sole purpose of building support for their regimes at the grass-root level and to undermine the political parties.
The elected governments that interspersed the military regimes remained criminally oblivious to this constitutional requirement. Even interventions by the superior judiciary have not produced the desired results because the political governments found excuses to either not hold them or delay them. Even when the elections were held the local bodies were not given the powers to function as per the constitution. The development work at the local levels has invariably been entrusted to the MNAs and MPAs through allocation of funds vitiating the spirit of the constitution. These MNAs, MPAs and district administration have also acted as a stumbling bloc in empowering the local government to keep their vested interests intact.
The consequences of this willful breach of the constitution by the elected governments are that the state of Pakistan has to a great extent, failed to provide the required services to its citizens and building a responsible relationship with them. That decidedly is also the major factor in promoting fissiparous tendencies in the country and undermining the national integration.
As the constitution stipulates it is basically the responsibility of the provincial governments to establish local governments and devolve powers to them. We therefore do not need constitutional amendment but legislation by the provincial governments to fulfill the objective of the constitution and also list the powers of the local representatives as proposed in the conference organised by MQM.
For quite some time we also have been hearing echoes for creation of more provinces in the country with fluctuating intensity in the demand for them. Creation of a new province of South Punjab, restoration of the state of Bahawalpur, carving out of Hazara province from the present KPK and making Karachi a separate governing unit have been agitated from time to time. The arguments in favour of the creation of more provinces usually have been poor governance, lack of development and distance factor from the provincial capitals. An incisive look into the issue however reveals that the political parties have never shown required seriousness in the issue and have used this slogan sporadically to gain political mileage out of the prevailing political environment.
Creating provinces on linguistic basis as is the case for demand of Saraiki province (South Punjab) is fraught with great dangers. In an environment when Pakistan is confronted with internal and external dangers that pose an existentialist threat to the country, the need is for strengthening the state edifice and ensuring good governance in conformity with the constitution. Any talk of dividing it further on linguistic basis is absolutely unjustifiable. Demands for more provinces largely represent populist slogans targeting Pakistani desires for instant short cuts to good governance. They confuse the functions of provinces and districts. There is, therefore, a need to improve governance instead of adventuring with the idea of more provinces.
After the eighteenth amendment the provinces have been given the required autonomy and the right to own and use their resources for the benefit of the people. Improving governance depends on devising mechanisms to implement those constitutional provisions in letter and spirit.
As is evident from the foregoing, the real issue is solving the problems of the people at the grass-root level and not the creation of more provinces on administrative or ethno-linguistic basis. Problems of the people at the grass-root level can be resolved besides required development carried out only through strengthening the local government as per the constitution and implementation of the eighteenth amendment in letter and spirit. It is therefore incumbent upon the political parties to shun their traditional politics of befooling the people and show honesty of purpose in serving the people through improved governance in consonance with Article 140A of the constitution.