Provinces reluctant to devolve power
April 27, 2012
While hearing a petition on the law and order and violation of human rights in Balochistan, the Supreme Court has reached the conclusion that this southwestern province can prevent itself from sinking deep into further anarchy if local bodies’ polls are held without further delay.
Heading a three-member bench to hear the petition the Chief Justice remarked early this month that not only Balochistan but other provinces too were violating the constitution by not holding LB polls. He directed the four secretaries and the attorney general to report as to why this democratic exercise was being delayed.
The provinces returned on April 12 with their response. Sindh and Balochistan said the law and order was the major hurdle to the holding such a democratic exercise. They also presented non-completion of electoral rolls by the Election Commission an excuse as well. However, Punjab said that it might hold LB polls by August 10. The CJ categorically asked the reluctant provinces to go ahead even with existing ordinance if the new laws were not ready.
While the revised and restored constitution has placed extraordinary powers to manage their resources and design and execute projects regarding the welfare of their subjects, it also makes obligatory for them to establish local governments and devolve political, administrative and fiscal powers to them so that the benefits of devolution should reach the grassroots level as well.
The local body elections have become overdue since 2009. The provincial governments, including that of Punjab, have used delaying tactics though they did not hesitate from dismissing the existing ones when their terms reached an end. First they wasted enough time in deciding as to what system should replace the previous one. Meanwhile, they restored the centuries-old commissionarate system. Hence restoring the administrative divisions that had been abolished by the previous government.
Not holding local bodies’ polls is not without its repercussions for the country's political stability. It is not only Balochistan where the law and order situation has degenerated to the extent that its governor says he fears civil war. Sindh has lost Karachi to the ethnic tensions; the KP is the worst hit by militancy while Hazarawals are threatening civil disobedience if they are not given a province of their own.
Punjab is in more difficult position than the others. The PPP’s unilateral stand on dividing the province on ethno-linguistic lines has caused much embarrassment to the PML-N after the president himself has visited Multan and given a pledge that the Saraiki province would become a reality before elections. Now when the PML-N is not prepared for this development, the only result will be a tug of war and threat from it to invoke the Article 239, which will undermine any bill, submitted and passed by the Parliament, for the creation of the proposed ‘Saraiki’ province.
By ruling that the local bodies’ polls should be held immediately, the Supreme Court has provided the PML-N with an opportunity to secure a breathing space for itself. This democratic exercise will benefit the party only if becomes the first to formally announce polls and offer even a better system than the one given by the previous regime keeping in mind that the people should not necessarily be looking towards Takht-e-Lahore for resolving their local problems.
The previous local government system failed not due to funds but the administrative handicaps which the provinces rendered to them. If the district governments managed to have hospitals, they had no authority to manage the necessary staff on their own. Too, the local bodies’ necessarily need to be headed by the elected heads.
By taking lead in carrying out the orders of the Supreme Court aboput the holding of local bodies’ elections, the PML-N may benefit from the confusion with which its competitors are seized with on this particular issue. It may strike while others are yet to arrange their columns. More this democratic exercise is undertaken, with right substance, the more it will yield stunning results.