Balochistan Local Government Act 2010; replaced the previous Devolution of Power Plan, implemented in 2002, which had entrusted immense powers to the Local Governments. The Act envisages that, ‘’the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan under Article 32 requires the state to encourage Local Government Institutions composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned and having special representation of peasants,
workers and women; the provincial government to decentralize the government administration under Article 140-A so as to facilitate expeditious disposal of its business to meet the convenience and the requirements of public.’’ Interestingly, instead of encouragement the Act led to a change of heart, the governance of the Local Governments through elected representatives was avoided from 2010 to 2014 December.
The story of the Local Governments – Councils is simple; liked by the Martial Law regimes, while alike disliked by the Politically Elected Democratic Governments. The formers have used Local Governments as a constituency, to get legitimization through public support. Conversely, the latter have considered Local Governments as an encroachment on their authority, and kept them dysfunctional to a greater extent possible. It has resulted in de-politicization of the society.
However, in spite of the fact, that the Local Governments, under pressure in democracy and over bearing in Martial Laws have been there, the need of the institution has always remained. Meanwhile, as an institution to flourish, the Local Governments have never been allowed by design to properly grow or perform and play the due role in the welfare of the communities.
The dilemma with the Local Governments, in Balochistan is the same as in the rest parts of the country, as their weaknesses lie in their conceptual strength, being the most efficient and effective government, closer to the public pulse, at gross root level. Its role shrinks in and expands at times, as the authority at federal level takes shape .Initially the Local Governments comprised of independent councilors easily manipulated to get the ends desired by the establishment. Take the case of Basic Democracies, introduced by President General Mohammad Ayub khan, to harm his political rivals, particularly Fatima Jinnah.
But as the political parties made an entry into the arena, never the less, indirectly, the Local Governments became more assertive. Thus the tug of war got intense, the provincial governments stood against the Local Governments. Another problem rose was of hung councils, which caused difficulty in policy decision making, agenda setting, distribution of the fund, grants, contracting out and cost benefit analysis. The actions and inactions of the Local Governments both were propagated, by the losers and gainers equally to enhance ambiguity. However, on the whole, situation of consensus prevailed in the councils.
In the absence of public representatives, the management of the Local Governments had authority often in their hands – administrators found it difficult to get along with the public representatives, as they assumed offices. The Local Governments, as nurseries of politics, help gain experience of political processes, campaigning on issues, persuasion for getting elected, learning the procedures of the conduct of a council, negotiations for lobbying and developing tolerance etc.
Balochistan province had, all the Districts Councils, one Metropolitan, five Municipal Corporations, fifty-three Municipal Committees, six hundred and thirty-five Union Councils. About 11,400 councilors included Mayors, Chairman’s, and Vice Chairman’s and women peasants. The Non-party based, Balochistan Local Governments four years’ term expired on 28 January 2019, to give way for elections.
The elections, as per policy was to be held in not less than 90 days and not more than 120 days, except otherwise deliberated by the Provincial Government in special case(s).
The Election Commission of Pakistan, Balochistan provincial office was preparing the schedule of the elections, when the Government of Balochistan sent a letter for postponement of the election, to amend the Balochistan Local Government Act 2010, which was turned down by the Election commission.
The proposed changes in the Balochistan Local Government Act, 2010, are better known to the authorities in the Provincial Government, as the public opinion has not been sought, for the proposed change in the Act. However, the reformation approach is appreciated, exploring the issues, analyzing the performance, the culture and sub cultures of the institution, the organizational structures, the career path of the human resource,
clear re-defined roles for the staff, capacity building of the officials, pre-audit mechanism at district treasury level, strengthening the public accountability procedures, may make the Local Governments, a more public service oriented body, immediately responsive to the daily needs. It may not be the only right way, in addition to the given suggestions, but setting up performance based indicators for the Local Governments can help.
Since, the Balochistan Government Rules of Business 2012, states that, ‘’ Fiscal support to Local Councils through Provincial Finance Commission/ Local Councils Grants committee.’’ Thus the PFC is preferable for realistic resource distribution to address the problems of the neediest. The Act describes that the,‘’ Formula for distribution of Local Council Grant among local councils in the province; out of the proceeds of Provincial Consolidated Fund in a financial year in addition to the GST grant(in lieu of Octroi and Zila Tax).’’The distribution of the fund and grant, through Local Council Grants Committee as in vogue, requires discouragement.
Rights and responsibilities of the Local Governments are to be balanced carefully, through an expended budget allocation. Hopefully, against the past practices, this time, it would not be a political gimmick for dilly dallying, at the cost of the guardians of public interests. The delay in elections closes an alternative avenue to the public to voice their views. An electoral political process can make the Local Governments into a robust progressive political institution.
After all, taking a holistic approach, the Government of Balochistan has to plan a balanced and reconciliatory working relationship with the Local Governments, somehow, which shall get elected. The public representatives against the bureaucratic administrators are more appropriate to handle the Local Governments, as well as share the responsibility of the good governance. It ought not to be a process to pass on, the proverbial bug to the Local Governments, as an authority with least powers.
Reform is an on-going process to tweak the systems the court’s decision may not leave enough room for amendments- reforms, to be deliberated endlessly. Therefore, an amicable settlement is desirable; to have an up dated Local Governments.
Balochistan Bar Council Association has taken the matter, in the High Court of Balochistan Quetta, that the elections for the Local Governments be conducted, inter alia, after, ‘’ to take up matter in the provincial cabinet for deliberation and the further approval from the floor of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly.’’ On the basis of changes in the population, and result of the census of 2017, the fresh delimitation was being felt. The Bar Association’s stance is strong enough, as change is a constant phenomenon to be accepted.
The unjustifiable territorial demarcations, under populated or over populated councils call for a review, unfortunately manipulated over the years to specific gains. The fate of the election of the Local Governments in Balochistan province hangs in balance, certainly, Balochistan needs a progressive Local Government system.