Interview: Sardar Mustafa Khan Tarin, Balochistan Minister for Local Government
How important are local government (LG) elections in improving democratic governance in Pakistan?
Local government polls are essential to lay the foundation for a viable and enduring democracy. To empower people at the grassroots level and ensure their participation in government policies and decision-making, the political parties have worked hard for the revival of true democracy in the country. Basic democracy, in the form of local institutions, gives people a sense of participation, ownership and integration in the important matters of their respective communities. Holding LG elections is the only way to engage the public in government policy-making through their representatives, and this is why we strongly supported local bodies and conducted LG elections in Balochistan.
What will be the fundamental areas of responsibility for newly formed local bodies in your province?
The newly elected body is the real representative of our constituency. When it comes to service delivery and identifying the core issues at the grassroots level, the local representatives could turn out to be the most effective. The newly elected local bodies should assist the provincial government to reform social service delivery and improve law and order. More importantly, the local bodies could play a pivotal role against the menace of corruption and help improve the performance of government departments. For example, a councillor could check on absentee teachers and medical practitioners to hold them responsible for performing their duties.
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 local polls were held in Balochistan due to the collective resolve of the present government to empower local bodies in line with the Constitution and the LG Ordinance 2010. The local representatives will be fully empowered to serve the people of their constituencies by exercising their political, administrative, and financial powers.
What are the barriers to the development of effective LG structures in Pakistan?
The Balochistan government has the distinction of having held LG elections in compliance with the directives of the Supreme Court under Articles 32 and 140(A) of the Constitution, as we want this system to flourish.
Unlike in the past, the current government decided to hold elections on a party basis, which makes the local polls more important. It was first time in the country that local polls were held on a party basis since the initiation of the LG system. When a councillor or a mayor elected on a party basis does not live up to people’s expectations, they will not vote for his party in the general elections. Non-partisan elections have been a stumbling block in the development of effective LG structures in Pakistan.
What are the key strengths of the LG Law in your province?
There will be more emphasis on rural development and improving the basic amenities of life. The law has made local representatives take concrete measures for rural development and improvements in municipal services, which is sometimes difficult for members of the provincial assembly to effectively address.
How does the LG Law in your province empower local elected leadership in development planning and improving service delivery mechanisms?
The incumbent government has devised a concerted strategy aimed at ending corruption and paving the way for improving service delivery mechanisms. The local representatives’ proposals regarding improvements in health, education, maintaining law and order, ensuring continued and equitable development, and creating opportunities for all constituents will be honoured as enshrined in the law.
What are the fiscal powers devolved to the districts, tehsils and union councils/neighbourhood councils in your province?
During military regimes, the LG system was preferred as dictators used local bodies to ensure their legitimacy. Although we are in favour of devolution of administrative, fiscal and political powers to local leadership in line with the LG law, there should be a transparent mechanism with robust checks and balances. The local representatives will be duty-bound to work on development schemes for their respective areas and present them before a committee for approval and implementation. The viability of the development scheme finalised by the local bodies will be appraised by the cabinet and funds will be released accordingly.
In your view, what would be the political and developmental impact of the elected LGs in your province?
The party affiliation of the newly-elected local bodies with the political parties would not only improve their performance, but would yield positive impacts on the province’s development. The LGs will address issues of law and order, absentee doctors and teachers, and rural development, leading to a positive impact on the overall development of the province.