Change without a change

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  • What PTI’s all about?

The saying that more the things change, the more they stay the same befittingly describes the U-turn taken by the PTI government in Punjab on the allocation of development funds to the MPAs. The government has changed but the ways of governance have not changed. Doling out billions of rupees to lawmakers as ‘development funds’ has been a contentious policy since 1985 when it was first introduced by Gen Zia ul Haq. Successive governments, both military and civil, have carried on this practice despite criticism that it catalyses politics of patronage and opens doors for corruption. The last PML-N government however discarded this practice in 2016. It is pertinent to point out that Imran Khan has been a very vocal and vociferous opponent of giving development funds to MNAs and MPAs.

Reportedly the Punjab government has already collected development proposals from its MPAs who will be allocated Rs100 million each to the exclusion of the opposition members of the provincial assembly. The revival and continuation of this detestable and politically motivated decision is not only un-constitutional but discriminatory as well.  Undertaking development schemes at the grass root level and within the constituencies is the responsibility of the local bodies and not the legislators.

Most of the countries with parliamentary democracies have a three tier system of governance, with local governments being the pivot of the system of governance. The constitution of Pakistan also envisages a three layered system of governance in the country comprising federal, provincial and local government. But to the chagrin of the masses, 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. 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, has also been the major factor in promoting fissiparous tendencies in the country and undermining the national integration.

The model of local government originally crafted by the National Bureau of Reconstruction during Musharraf era was probably the right initiative that conformed to the system envisioned in the constitution. It enhanced the powers of the elected officials of the local government and abolished the office of district magistrate and divisional commissioners. This step also finally fulfilled the constitutional requirement under article 175(3) for separation of judiciary from executive at the district level. However the PML-Q government installed by Musharraf defanged the system by changing some of its features and initiating a process of recentralisation of some of the development departments. Musharraf acquiesced to these changes dictated by political expediencies. However, the moment democracy was restored in the country as a result of 2008 general election, all the provincial governments abandoned the system and revived the archaic and colonial system of district administration. None of the parties ruling the provinces, in spite of crying hoarse from every convenient roof top to rub in their democratic credentials, ever bothered to hold Local Bodies elections until the SC intervened in 2014 and ordered the provinces to hold local bodies elections. Though they held the elections but they were not given the powers as per the constitution.

PTI, which won the franchise of the people on the basis of its pledge to improve governance and adherence to the constitution and  rule of law in the country, owes it to the people to give them a system of local government in conformity with article 175(3) and 140A(1-2)

We often hear demands for creation of new provinces and administrative units to resolve the problems of the people and finding solution to the political tensions. I think this is not the real solution. The real solution lies in establishing Local Bodies, a missing link in the system of governance, in conformity with Article 140A (1&2) of the constitution which stipulates” 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. Elections to the local governments shall be held by the Election commission of Pakistan.” As is evident the local government system envisaged by the constitution demands devolution of full powers to the local governments including development projects and the local administration, free from the strangulating control of the provincial government. Improving governance is impossible without establishing local bodies in conformity with the constitution.

The country also needs radical reforms in the way we elect our leaders. The present system of electing the legislators on single constituency basis has actually strengthened and perpetuated the archaic and colonial system and concentrated political power in the hands of the elite and the feudal lords.

The best way to break their monopoly on the political power in the country is to adopt the system of proportional representation. Under this system people vote for the parties rather than the individual candidates in a single constituency and the parties get representation in the parliament on the basis of the percentage of votes that they poll. The advantage of this system is that it reflects the real support for the political parties among the masses and also ensures the presence of smaller and regional parties in the parliament making the legislature a truly representative body. The party leaders are spared of the blackmail of the hereditary legislators who keep shifting their loyalties to cash on their ability to make and break governments. The system also eliminates the possibility of horse trading, floor-crossing and rigging, the issue which presently has created a political crisis in the country. To make this system really workable, voting will also have to be made compulsory as is the case in more than 50 countries, mostly European, where proportional representation system is in vogue.

PTI, which won the franchise of the people on the basis of its pledge to improve governance and adherence to the constitution and  rule of law in the country, owes it to the people to give them a system of local government in conformity with article 175(3) and 140A(1-2) of the constitution in consultation with the provincial governments.  However the portents are not very encouraging as the PTI government has already taken U-turns on a number of its pledges and also seems to have succumbed to the political expediencies as reflected by revival of development funds for the MPAs.  It is a change without a change.