The centrality of local government as a structure of government closest to the citizens cannot be over emphasised. It is closest to citizens and the community and therefore known as ‘local’. It has an extremely important role to play in society as an agent of change and development, as it represents the interests of a particular locality at the grass-roots level leading to a broader concept of the welfare and happiness of its people. Local democracy is also integral to the broader system of democracy and governance. Local governance and decentralisation are considered basic ingredients of the Good Governance and accountable governance in any country. At international level, local governments are also critical for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) likely to be agreed internationally in September 2015 succeeding the Millennium Development Goals. Of the 17 proposed goals (SDGs), many need to be provided at local level.
In Pakistan, local governments operate under a complex political system of relationships and pressures.
In 1947, on the eve of creation, Pakistan inherited a local government system that was in practice in the undivided India during colonial period. Since then, the history can be broadly divided into following periods:
- From 1947 – 1958
- From 1958 – 1969, the Basic Democracy System of General Ayub Khan
- Period from 1969 – 1979.
- Local Government system introduced by General Ziaul Haq in 1979
- The Devolution of Power Plan introduced by General Pervez Musharraf.
- The Current Local Government System
Since the creation of Pakistan, different systems/models of local government have been experimented throughout preceding decades. Decentralization in Pakistan has certain unique features. While it may seem ironic, grassroots democracy has often been at its vibrant best during military regimes as evidenced by three different models given by respective military regimes.
While local government is still a ‘work in progress’ in Pakistan (as in any other country), it is exceedingly felt that there is a dearth of literature and documents relating local governments in Pakistan for policy analysis, research and comparative studies. It is believed that enormous amount of reports and documents are consigned in official archives, withered with time or in the best scenario in personal libraries of officers/scholars who have an interest in this area. In any case, it is extremely difficult to access as these are either not in public domain or not easily accessible.
The local government system is evolving in Pakistan and there is a growing debate (and therefore corresponding volumes) on the type of decentralized model suited to the country. There are a large number of litigations pending or adjudged by the superior courts. Some of the landmark judgments have the potential to set the contour of the system of local governance in future, e.g. executive magistracy.
Another change taken place is the integration of local government reforms with other sectors –for example Devolution Plan of 2001 introduced by General Pervez Musharraf who also introduced civil service and Police reforms. Therefore, local governance has become increasingly complex and is likely to be more challenging due to oncoming pressure on governments to tackle issues like poverty reduction, infrastructure development, basic education, housing, environmental issues due to increased population and climate change and also achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
The current Local Government System is introduced as The Sindh (Repeal of the Sindh Peoples Local Government Act-2012 and Revival of the Sindh Local Government Ordinance,1979) Act-2013