Interview: Inayatullah Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Local Government and Rural Development
In your opinion, how important are local government (LG) elections in improving democratic governance in Pakistan?
I think they are extremely important. This third tier of government is required by the constitution and it is continually missing in the elected political governments. The military dictators have held local elections just to provide legitimacy to their rule, whereas the elected political government is avoiding holding the LG elections because they are reluctant to share their power with people at the grassroots level.
LG elections are also important because they are necessary in order to devolve power to the local level, to increase efficiency and to make municipal services work for the people. At the moment municipal services, health and education facilities are dysfunctional and underutilised, in part because they are controlled by provinces which are removed from the local people. In accordance with the Article 140(A) of the constitution, provinces must devolve financial, administrative and political authority to elected representatives at the district level.
If we hold LG polls consistently, it will strengthen the democratic system. It will provide a platform for new leadership to emerge and will cultivate democratic culture.
In your opinion, what will be the fundamental areas of responsibility for newly formed local bodies in your province?
As part of our LG act, we will devolve 24 public departments – including education, health, agriculture, communication and works – to the district level. A three-tier system will be established at the district level. At the top will be the district government, then the tehsil government and then the village council. District councils will look after the devolved offices at the district level, while municipal services will be given to the tehsil councils they will monitor and hold accountable the offices at the tehsil level.
Village councils will have their own internal dispute resolution mechanism, their own security system and will look after their needs and requirements at the village level.
Village council elections will be held on non-party basis. A village council will represent a population of 2,000-10,000, but we will not break up villages. These will be within the limits of the Patwar (village revenue official) and we will also not cross the limits of the current Union Councils. We expect to form more than 3,000 village councils in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
How will the LG law, passed by the provincial assembly, ensure the sufficient devolution of financial, administrative and political power to newly formed local bodies?
The LGs are empowered not only to monitor and manage, but also to plan and mobilise resources for the devolved subjects. The provincial government will transfer 30 percent of its development funds as well as funds for meeting recurring costs to the district governments.
The allocation of resources to districts will be made by the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC), which will distribute the funds according to an agreed formula, based on population, poverty, remoteness and lack of infrastructure.
Unlike other provinces, the PFC of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will include two representatives of the district nazims and two representatives of the tehsil nazims.
What are the barriers to the development of effective LG structures in Pakistan?
The main hurdles are a feudal mind-set and the traditional political class who are reluctant to devolve their powers and share resources with local governments. Another barrier is the practice of allocating development funds to provincial and federal parliamentarians for visible projects with immediate results, which undermines the principle of local planning and development. Bureaucracy is another hurdle, as they want to maintain a tight centralised control system without devolving or sharing power. If we can hold local elections consistently, we would be able to set up a very strong federation. If we elect 50,000 councillors and more than 3,000 nazims, over 900 district council members and 73 tehsil nazims and 25 district nazims, power would be shared more broadly.
What are the three key strengths of the local government law in your province?
First, we are not going to establish local councils; we are going to establish district governments. We are devolving powers in accordance with the spirit of Article 148.
Second, we have blocked the way for horse-trading. For example, in district and tehsil councils the elections would be on a party basis. Those elected as members of district and tehsil councils would be eligible as candidates for district and tehsil nazims, to be elected by the respective council. There will be no secret ballot. It would be a vote by division. So, those who vote against their parties would lose their seats.
Third, we are the only province that will be establishing more than 3,000 village councils. The government functionaries at the village level would be accountable to the elected representatives. This is a major and fundamental shift.
How does the LG law in your province empower local elected leadership in development planning and improving service delivery mechanisms?
When you empower people to plan for themselves, to identify and prioritise their needs, to control finances and to generate revenue, you improve the service delivery system. When you empower communities to manage their problems at their own level, this changes the entire situation on the ground.
What are the fiscal powers devolved to the districts, tehsils and union councils/neighbourhoods councils in your province?
The district, tehsil and village councils are fully empowered to use the funds given to them. The provincial government would have no right to override the decisions of these councils and the budgets passed by them.
In your view, what would be the political and developmental impact of the elected LGs in your province?
The LGs will change the pattern of politics in Pakistan. It will cultivate a democratic culture and people will be able to identify and prioritise their needs, plan for development, generate revenue and spend their own finances. But continuity is very important, and without it the system will not work.