Democracy a Barrier

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Local Governments always face problem to strengthen the system during democratic government tenure. The paper highlights some critical factors and response on Save Local Government movement in Pakistan.
  Seething Democratic Government By Waseem Ashraf  There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding, education, organization, actionthat raises the cost of state violence for its perpetrators or that lays the basis for institutional change -- and the kind of commitment that will persist despite thetemptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future (Noam Chomsky), the country wide protests for continuation of Local Government system is giving hope for a new political landscape inPakistan.It was Second quarter of the year 2001 when an effort was made to create LocalGovernment in Pakistan and people were talking about new system, having hopes andfeeling, confident and enthusiastic as a part of process for decentralization in ademocratic way. Why were people so confident? The reason was consultation and their involvement in the process and role in creating local governments with a vision, a right todevelop and self-governance with an opportunity for empowerment. Local GovernmentOrdinance 2001 was promulgated, elections held and people, who were annoyed with oldsystem’s hide and seek of democracy and martial law, participated and elected. It wastime when more than 125,000 in 2001 and 84000 in 2005 people were elected from allsegments of life and became the part of local governments to serve and perform.We are in 2009, but second quarter is witnessing denigration of a significant feature of Pakistan’s political landscape the same Local Governments, heated debates are going onto scrap it. Two schools of thought can be clearly marked as opponents “the ruling class”and exponent “people”. It’s difficult to equate both as former are powerful and latter haveunheard voice, because ruling party has one point agenda to replace local governmentsystem with local bodies and pushing us 30 years back under Local Government Act2009 including separation of the rural and urban areas of cities, re-introduction of municipal corporations and district councils, and giving only municipal functions to themso as to return administrative powers to the official machinery, to be headed either by adeputy commissioner or DCO (structure not clearly defined, presumably DeputyCommissioners because commissioners’ office is already established). In 1947 the areasthat constituted Pakistan had few developed systems of local government and they wereconfined mainly to Punjab. Wherever local government existed, it was not based on adultfranchise and its agenda and budget was under severe bureaucratic control of the DeputyCommissioner who played a critical role in determining its policy, where would we bestanding? Three convention attended by thousands of people from all walk of lifesignificantly depicting a new political thought among people who wants to participate inthe affairs of country by saving local governments from civilian PCO and 58-2B byintroducing a new form Charter of Democracy introduced by Mr. Daniyal Aziz.The antagonists have a few arguments to prove this system adverse, for example, thesystem was introduced by a dictator & Army General, massive corruption, noaccountability, lack of control and coordination with the provincial government and  duplication of departments, the system did not deliver as it is a parallel system etc. As per against these arguments the dictator has neither appointed any army officer nor motivatedthem to contest election as Nazim or councilor; they all were civilian elected by peoplefrom their respective constituencies and it happened twice in last eight years. If government has evidences of corruption they should take action against the corrupt,Local Government Ordinance 2001 has very elaborative system for monitoring,accountability and internal control under section 131 to 140. These should be stimulatedto make necessary amendments. It’s not a parallel system; it is the third tier of thegovernment and is the most important level of government close to people. Its policiesand programs have impact on residents, workers, and visitors on a daily basis. It is notdetached form provincial government as its link is defined in section 127 & 128.Regardless of flaws or criticism on this system people are still satisfied with it because ithas delivered goods. This system served as a political nursery in its real sense, if weanalyze results of general elections held in 2002 and 2008, respectively 21% and morethan 40% MNAs and MPAs respectively were either Nazims and councilors or their relatives. It has created an emerging cadre of non-traditional and potential leadershipwhich is viewed as imminent threat to traditional leaders who want to rule over thiscounty through their dynasty as their legal heir. Erstwhile local governmentrepresentatives and now MPA/ MNAs won elections because they were close to peopleand had performed well. They are product of this system but they are silent on this issue,why? I wonder, this silence is significant and we have to find out its answer.This system gave a right of development to people under section 93 to 106 and 119 thatenunciates bottom up planning process. A common man has a right to participate throughformation of Citizen Community Boards, Village and Neighbourhood councils and other forums. From a community development perspective, as the social capital of communities grows, so should their desire and capacity to take more control of their future, with less dependence / reliance on government as the driver or instigator of  projects and initiatives. Resultantly, there are more than 35000 CCBs in Pakistan whichhave contributed about one billion rupee as their share in public development schemes.There are about 1000 VNCs who started working at grassroots level and creating link with three tiers of Local Government. We have experienced good results by creatingAnjuman Musalihat Committees which has lessened the burden of courts because plentyof trivial cases used to be registered in courts. In every council, members are assignedresponsibility to monitor by forming committees their functionality remained in question but mechanism exists. Provincial Governments are spending a lot of money but areunable to create any impact regarding Police Community relations and improving Thanaculture. On the other hand, in different district such as Haripur and Lasbela Union PublicSafety Committees performed very well and demonstrated ability to improve PoliceCommunity Relations with fewer resources. The other experience is computerization of  police record in four districts (Lasbela, Narowal, Haripur and Khairpur). It gave amazingresults as Police Station Monitoring Information System helped DPOs to know abouttotal strengths and crime trends and other useful information to improve community policing and control crime by aligning strategy for crime prevention. In eight years wehave seen infrastructure development, TMAs have provided services to people, and  things became easier for them as elected representatives were accessible and answerableto public due to their roots and presence in the area. Regarding district government performance it is visible though they were not given full power by provincialgovernments. More than 5000 government officials from all departments were trainedwhich increased efficiency and introduced incentive system especially in educationsector. It also improved performance of officials in many districts; a large number of civilsociety organizations were involved in the process and they assisted in different programs. Interaction and networking of elected representatives improved inter- provincial coordination and harmony and formation of Local Council Association isanother achievement that endorsed and strengthened right based democratic process andnurtured norms and values in the system. Provinces have less opportunity to participate inmain stream of politics; this system has provided people of Balochistan and NWFP to participate in main stream of politics.Distantly, there are some grey areas of this system which inexorably requireimprovements. It can be done through a consultative process with all stakeholders but notin slapdash demeanor. People are annoyed with democratic governments of two major  parties because they do not come up to expectation of people. Moreover; they aredepriving people of their right for development and self-governance. There is mumblingon this unpopular decision by the Prime Minister who is ready to watch Government of Punjab’s interest not giving due consideration to people of Pakistan’s aspirations. It is not judicious to settle political ties on the cost of people’s aspiration. I still doubt the basis of unanimity of provinces on this issue, they might be misled too. Balochistan and NWFPshould deliberate on it, instead of following blindly the same document that might be prepared by one of the most experienced Baboo, a section officer in an old room of LocalGovernment Department and Rural Development. Noam Chomsky wrote “The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arenato unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, partydictatorships, or modern corporations” , it seems case as Provinces are going to decidethe type of system they want.Furthermore, heated debate on media has shockingly exposed the curators of new local body system; they are having important portfolios in government but their discussionswere without visions, full of misunderstanding and bigotry and lack of knowledge aboutthe system ascertaining to a personal vendetta. The irony of fate is that the sitting LocalGovernment Minister was once champion of rights of representative of LocalGovernment and campaigner of the system is now behaving like Brutus. Unfortunate weare when Law Ministers from Punjab and Sindh showed oblivious attitude and deniedabout proposed Act 2009 that was discussed in cabinet, and would be enacted after debate in provincial assembly that shudders to visualize people like Shumaila Rana, HajiRafiq, Ch. Ghafoor and Gill sitting in assemblies and they will decide the fate of people.PPP and PML (N) leadership should also examine and analyze shallow statements and political short-sightedness of proponent of new system who have no line of reasoningotherwise; it would be a quagmire as we are hearing mumbling and uproar from civilsociety of Pakistan which is vibrant and initiated ‘Save the Local GovernmentMovement’ from Lahore while holding a press conference. It has become a vital case  Local Government vs. Civilian Government and political parties have put it on their agenda with the support of media. It is playing very vital role in supporting the voicelessto give them voice for their rights. It is media which has unveiled intellectual insolvencyof our leadership and decision-makers.During the political government, legislators want absolute power especially over monetary affairs. Bureaucracy finds these legislators a fine scapegoat and legislators arewillingly like and are at ease on this arrangement, as we have noticed that provincialfinance minister Punjab has given powers to Commissioners to approve and implementthe development schemes of MPAs/ MNAs, instead that the petty development tasks aremaintained by the local government. Legislators and bureaucrats take it as their right tospend money on sanitation, drainage and roads. The newly established power of judiciaryhas very subtly, pointed out the legislatures are not legislating therefore, judiciary hassent some 59 ordinances to parliament to debate and decide. They should frame laws,concentrate on putting the country to right path and plugging in various holes of corruption. Thus local governments will continue to remain in the service of common people.If we review Local Government systems in the world, they also change accordingly butnot drastically to the level to scrap it. Those are evolved and developed under a certainframework and same is needed here. People are not out to save Nazims but they wantcontinuation of this system with necessary changes if required. The course of action can be to have election in time without interval to strengthen democratic electoral process, tohave an analytical review of merits, progress and demerits of this system, proposechanges to trim down demerits through a process approach and subsequently introducethese changes to create ownership of all stakeholders including general public. PrimeMinister of Pakistan has formulated a committee to review concurrent list. FederalGovernment look after the federal affairs, provincial governments to manager matter relating to provinces and local government will cater to the needs of people at local level.It is healthy step towards decentralization of power and it can productive if a localgovernment system would in place.Muhammad Waseem Ashraf House No. 93-G/4 Wapda 0300-5017330
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