Monday, 13 July 2009

whats going on?

So the local bodies system that has been in place since 2001 has been abolished. The commissioner raj is back. The MPA's and MNA's are back in charge of development funds. We are back to 1999. It seems anything that happened during the Musharraf era good or bad has to be rolled back no matter the consequences. Supporters of the current move point to this fact that since this system was the creation of a dictator it cant be good. Perhaps its execution at all levels has not been good but conceptually this system is the best way of empowering people at the grass roots level.  As the famous saying goes all politics is local. Yet in Pakistan our political dynasties find it anathema to devolve power. Our babus find it disgraceful to let go of their powerful perches as well. Now the all powerful commissioner will carry out the desires of their all powerful political master, the chief minister. People in Lahore will decide which lane of Mian Channu requires street lighting. The head honcho in Karachi will decide which water course to line in rural Shikarpur. Ditto for other provinces. Welcome to democracy Pakistani style. 

Whats my beef here? Well basically we are reversing a system that provides an excellent forum for participatory democracy as well as accountable local government. If lane so in so in Mian Channu requires street lights the residents of that lane can go to their local councilor who can go to the Nazim and get the funds released. This ruffled feathers. This ruffled the bureaucracy who before this systems inception were the all in all and weren't accountable to anyone locally except to someone like the "khadim e Alla" we have here in Punjab these days. It upset our LEGISLATORS (note the emphasis) both at provincial and federal level as well. It deprived our honorable LEGISLATORS of their right to control the funds for development in their respective constituencies. Their grief is understandable given that our LEGISLATORS don't actually legislate so if you take away development funds from them whats the point of sitting in one of the capital cities. Also who knows the local government might throw up future political  challengers to them in their respective constituencies. You will hear critics say that this system bred corruption. Sure it did. But as much as I'm trying to remember the pre 2001 days i cant recall a system in place that was not corrupt. In fact if Transparency international is to be believed we were much more corrupt before than we are now. So all id say is that in addition to power being devolved, corruption also got devolved.

Like any system this system's effectiveness depended on the individuals involved. I'm sure some were bad but then there were others like the Nazim of Karachi who stood out and actually delivered a lot for his city. At the end of day folks, this system gave people all over Pakistan a chance to participate in grass roots democracy where they had people at the local level they could approach for redress of grievances and whom they could boot out if those people were found wanting in their eyes. One final note regarding this system. The empowerment of women that was happening and could have happened even better if this system was retained will be lost. 33% of the 80000 odd councillors were women.

Coming to my second hot topic which is kind of related. Lately the issue regarding the number of provinces has come into the spotlight. Contrary to this nonsensical view that this is not the time to talk about this issue i believe we should have a healthy debate regarding the issue. I for one am in favour of more administrative units as long as these units are not based on ethnic or linguistic lines. The reason I'm in favour of more administrative units is the same for the local bodies system. Majority of Pakistanis don't actually live in Lahore,Karachi, Islamabad,Peshawar or Quetta. A person in some Chak in Rahim yar Khan for instance is light years away from Lahore. Its impractical for a huge number of them to travel to Lahore to have their voice heard. In my opinion more administrative units will also bury the smaller provinces vs Punjab debate. In addition, if done smartly, it could also provide more unity to us all. However there are problems with this proposal one of which is the increase of government expenditure that will happen with the setting up of new capitals. Our new CM's and governors will demand the protocol that our present lot demands and gets.

Finally on a local Lahori note, our famous Food street of Gawalmandi has ceased to exist. it seems the powers that be could not tolerate another of Musharrafs legacies especially in their stronghold of Gawalmandi. Worry not Lahoris because Karachi's famous Barbecue tonight has opened up shop in Lahore. Who needed that tourist and connoisseur magnet food street anyway?

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