In a national conference held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), the delegates and organisers called for a constitutional amendment to protect the form and tenure of local governments. In addition, they also stressed that it is important to ensure that fiscal decentralisation enables local bodies to carry out their mandate effectively.

This has been a longstanding issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves. Article 32 of the Constitution requires the state to foster local government institutions, and Article 140A requires the province to delegate power to elected local governments and compels the ECP to hold local government elections. However, as experts have also pointed out, these constitutional safeguards have been insufficient and have not translated into actual decentralisation of power at the local level. Some also argue that the municipal and legislative responsibilities of provincial governments should be delinked.

True devolution also has to take place about fiscal affairs as development funds should be given only to local bodies because they can best gauge how to apportion them according to the needs on the ground. The absence of such a mechanism currently has meant that MPAs and MNAs have become rivals to local government members.

There is a lot that needs to be done to protect local governments and ensure that they can deliver effectively. We are coming close to the end of the five-year cycle in 2023, but little has been done to address this pressing matter. For instance, Karachi has been without a proper administrative structure since the last tenure of the local government in August 2020. Local government polls in the city have been postponed three times and no new polling dates have been announced as of yet.

As a result of this neglect, the federation and provinces are not functioning properly. HRCP’s recommendations are timely and important, and the hope is that the authorities will pay heed to this pressing matter. Local governments are critical for efficient service delivery and governance, and strong democracies warrant effective well-resourced local governments.