Local Government System has been politicized in Pakistan more than any other country. Whereas General Ayub Khan used it as an electoral college for his election under the banner of Basic Democracies, subsequent dictators used it as a vehicle to the hold on to power.
Contrarily, Local Governments were never fully functional during democratic periods and their performance had been a question mark since.
When asked what were the main factors that held back the performance of Local Body Representatives, Asadullah Baloch, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Balochistan (UoB), said that basically the function of local government is unknown to the people in our culture. The representatives, once elected, feel themselves obliged to their political parties and serve their interests rather than serving the masses. He said that it is an irony that local representatives are always from the same party that have majority in provincial and national assemblies, adding that the political culture, not the illiteracy of the local body representatives is the major hurdle in service delivery. He further added that mass corruption and weak audit system that had many loopholes in it marred the much needed performance expected from local body representatives.
The Local Government Act Balochistan2010 was enacted following the devolution of certain departments to the provincial assemblies as a part of 18th Amendment. However, local representatives’ performance remains dismal. Many regard this ill-performance is due to illiteracy on the part of the local representatives.
However, talking to this scribe, Muhammad Shakir Khan, the Administrator of Ziarat District said that performance of the local representatives is marred not by the fact of literacy but by that of dislocation of funds and ill-planning.
He said that local bodies receive considerable funds in grant-in-aid and many schemes are also reflected in PSDP yet the masses get little benefit out of these owing to schemes that were envisaged on political expediency rather than keeping in view the real interest of the masses.
He, however, conceded that the local representatives lack technical knowledge and added that they do have know-how of the problems of their constituencies and understand fully needs of their people.
Another administrator of a district in Local Government Balochistan, requesting anonymity, said that corruption was a major cause of ill-performance and not the illiteracy of the representatives. He said that lack of knowledge on the part of masses is yet another factor as many schemes are tendered every year but no ground work takes place but the masses little know about the schemes and hence funds are embezzled in their name.
He said that the current system of annual audit has left much space for corruption, adding that previously audit would take place every 4 years and an auditor would come with all the previous record and would hence detect repeated tender of a scheme over years. However, he added that currently in annual audit, each year a new auditor comes with no previous record and hence is unable to figure out if the same schemes were advertised in the previous year.
He also said that the pre-budget audit lacks in the grant-in-aid money that is given to the local representatives which leaves much space for corruption.
He said that as regards the literacy of the representatives, that is not an issue as all technical work such as preparation of Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), budget launch is done by technical staff. The local representatives know well their constituency even if illiterate.
A civil engineer in the local government department, requesting anonymity, told this scribe that basically local government is a technical department whereas it is headed by non-technical people which creates much hurdles in planning and implementation of the schemes.
Muhammad Rahim Kakar, who had been member of local body set up since 1987. He remained Mayor Quetta 1998 and was Quetta’s Nazim e Ahla since 2001 to 2005. Talking to this scribe, he said that all the development work falls within the purview of local government worldwide, adding however in Pakistan, the members of provincial, national assemblies and senate have been assigned these works since Zia’s period which creates a tug-of-war between two tiers of democracy.
As regards the education of the local representatives, he said that undoubtedly the councilors elected are not highly qualified as nobody would want a PhD for a councilor yet they have know-how of the problems of their constituencies and, if given space, they would perform much better.
He praised the times of the Musharraf, saying during his time Local Representatives had leverage of doing much needed work but in the current system, hurdles are too high to bolster their performance.