Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Monday road map for two-tier local government elections in Punjab to introduce new municipal system in the province, replacing the ‘Dehat’ system with ‘Panchayat’ system.
Talking to senior journalists in Islamabad days after the Punjab Local Government Act 2013 was replaced the Punjab Local Government Act 2019, Khan said direct elections will be held in 22,000 village councils in Punjab, which would “enable development at a lower level and also bring in new leadership”.
The prime minister said that during Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) previous term in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it had formed councils in villages, which were “very popular among the people”, and the same “system will now be adopted in Punjab”.
The prime minister said that the provinces had been unable to collect taxes after 18th Constitutional Amendment because they lacked the capacity to do so. “The federation has gone bankrupt due to 18th Amendment and viability of this amendment depends on this new LG system,” he said. “Cities will be allowed to collect taxes under this new LG system to run, effectively.”
Pakistan, he added, was facing massive urbanisation, especially in Punjab, because there was no focus on developing areas away from the big centre. “We want to devolve powers to the smaller cities and the provincial commissions will see which area needs the most funds for development,” he said.
Responding to a question if the new local government system was financially viable because of its administrative cost, particularly the concerns raised the PTI ally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), Khan said: “If we go by this logic then there is no use of parliament. Our priority is provide people with governance that we are giving through this system.”
The new local bodies system, the premier said, was a two-tier system, comprising village councils and Tehsil nazims. “Panchayat [or] village councils will be constituted in the first stage, and these will have access to development funds,” the prime minister explained. “These village councils will empower the locals and also bring forward a new leadership”.
The tehsil chairmen, he continued, will be directly elected and they will be responsible for the entire tehsil. “A district is too big a unit to be administrated effectively. The new model is similar to the one in developed countries like the UK and the US where mayors are directly elected. Elected mayor will bring his own cabinet and technocrats to perform,” he added.
Khan criticised the previous system, saying that indirect election of mayors had been a source of corruption. “We had a bad experience, while dealing with union councillors system where money was used for no-confidence motions, blackmailing and development budget was misappropriated to appease the councillors,” he said.
“Our cities are in ruins as the previous local government system was unable to perform. Cities are organised but growing population made them unmanageable. Even a city like Karachi cannot take up its financial burden and collects limited funds,” the prime minister said. “In the new system cities will collect their own funds. In Punjab and K-P, 30% of the development budget will go these local bodies,” he added.
“We have devised this plan and model after learning from our experiment and mistakes in K-P. Now only big parties will be able to contest elections of Tehsils due to the enormousness of this electoral process,” he said. “The PTI is fulfilling its promise of devolving authority to the lowest level,” he said.
Prime Minister Khan again refuted reports that any proposals were under consideration for a presidential system in the country. “We have not given this idea and I don’t know who is proposing this idea”, he said. “I know there will be resistance to this proposal [in the parliament.”
Khan also announced during the briefing that Shabbar Zaidi will be the new chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). “I know that we are going through a tough phase now. Economy has slowed down but there is a lot of hope. Foreign companies are now ready to invest in Pakistan and I know about this potential from my recent visits to China. Pakistan isn’t a poor country. It is a country with huge potential that needs to be utilised.”
Responding to a question about cricket, he termed the system of sponsoring cricket teams by different institutions as corrupt. “Where do the institutes sponsor local matches?” When asked about differing view of Javed Miandad, he said that Miandad had his own thoughts on this matter.
The briefing was also attended by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, PTI leader Jahangir Tareen, Punjab Local Bodies Minister Raja Basharat, K-P Chief Minister Mehmood Khan, Adviser to Prime Minister Shahzad Arbab and K-P Minister for Local Bodies Shehram Khan Tarakai.