Imran Khan vows to devolve powers to local bodies; resist “vested interests” opposing change

APP58-06 ISLAMABAD: May 06 – Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the press conference on Local Government Reforms at PM Office. APP

ISLAMABAD, May 6 (APP):In a revolutionary step forward to provide good governance at the grassroots level, Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday vowed to devolve powers to the local bodies and to defeat the vested interests resisting the change.
Addressing a press conference, flanked by the chief ministers of Punjab Usman Buzdar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mehmood Khan, here at the PM Office he spoke at length about the newly adopted local government system in Punjab, which aimed at “taking the government to the people” and announced a two-tiered election across Punjab.
Giving details of the new Punjab Local Government Act 2019, Imran Khan said a direct election would be held in 22,000 village councils in Punjab, for equal distribution of revenue and indiscriminate development of the entire province.
“People need governance,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said and added that the new concept was brought to the fore after lengthy deliberations and study of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local government system and similar systems in vogue internationally.
He said it was for the first time that the federal government was handing over its powers to the local bodies. “Our cities are like a heap of rubble … we want our cities to grow and develop, like those in the rest of the world. We want them to generate their own funds and manage issues on their own.”
Imran Khan said under the new law passed by Punjab, the mayor of a city, town and tehsil would be elected directly – in a first in South Asia. He said under the new system a mayor would be required to get a direct mandate from a large number of voters. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan received one million votes, while Erdogan also received a million votes to become mayor of Istanbul. He said the new mayor would bring in his own team to manage the city affairs and would have to work hard to deliver. The new process would do away with the existing practice of using money in “purchasing loyalties” for votes.
Ministers for Local Bodies Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shahram Khan and Punjab’s Minister
of Law Basharat Raja were also present during the interaction. The new Punjab Local Bodies Act 2019 is aimed at strengthening the intra-party democracy and allowing the common man to play his part in the local government system. This would also bring in new entrants and leaders into politics.
Imran Khan as a comparison mentioned the money generated by Lahore – US 32 million dollars and Karachi – 21 million dollars, which he said could be compared to the funds generated by Tehran – US 500 million dollars, Mumbai – 400 million dollars and Bangalore – 200 million dollars.
He said the previous government in Punjab spent 57 per cent of the development funds of the entire province on Lahore alone. He said an amount of over Rs 90,000 per capita was spent on development funds for Lahore, while a paltry Rs 2400 on the development of Rajanpur.
He said under the new law over Rs 400 billion will be devolved for all local government functions and will allocate over 30% – Rs 110 billion for the municipal services. The previous government allocated Rs 50 billion to the local government, however it was mere book transfer and not real devolution.
When asked whether he was facing resistance from the parliamentarians who used to get the funds for local development, Imran Khan said “change is resisted by vested interests,” and added “we have to defeat them.”
“Nowhere in the world the MNAs, MPAs are given development funds,” Khan said and pointed that in the past this practice led to duplication and poor management of funds.
“We have learned from experiences and found out that the village councilor was far more effective and had a better understanding of the local issues.” He said some of the changes had been adapted from the existing local government system in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the new law in Punjab.
Imran Khan said the new local bodies system will be made viable only if it was able to generate revenue. He said the provinces do not have enough capacity to collect funds under the 18th amendment. He said the viability of this amendment also depended on the success of revenue collection, and hoped that the new local government system would be able to meet the revenue shortfall by being more proactive and collecting the taxes.
The prime minister speaking about tapping the potential of cities said under the devolution program; urban planning and regulation – like LDA, MDA, RDA, water and sewerage (WASA), waste disposal companies, infrastructure and roads, primary, middle and high schools, public health and emergency planning would fall under the local body institutions.
He said all the functions would come under the authority of the mayor with checks by the council. Mayors would collect taxes and spend on their cities, modernizing the property tax regime to realize its full potential
Speaking about the Union Council Imran Khan described these as an artificial creation. He said every Mouza and urban neighborhood of Punjab would have a separate self-governing village council. He said 22,000 Village Council elections will be held on open list system and the member scoring highest vote would head it. There would be a direct election of women, peasants, workers and minority. He pointed that the average population size of the now defunct Union councils was 22,000, while now the average size of the Panchayat would be only around 3,500. He was optimist that it would bring governance closer to the people.
Mentioning functions of the Panchayat, the prime minister said it would look after; water supply , sewerage, solid waste management, street lights, births, deaths, marriage registration, dispute resolution, community mobilization , sports and assistance.
He was optimist that the new system would bring self governance to every organic community. A total of 372 rural tehsil, cities and towns would get self-governance. Around143 additional areas would get self-governance compared to 2015 and the right of self-governance would extend to 22,000 mouzas and 2500 urban neighbourhoods.