Elected local government representatives should have authority to take decisions in their respective areas. Bureaucracy should not dominate the elected representatives. A balance of authority should be created whereby elected representatives’ authority is not encroached upon by bureaucracy and similarly elected representatives should be answerable to elected house and should not encroach in executive functions. Balance and segregation of power between the two should be amply delineated and demarcated.
An independent Local Government Commission needs to be established under the chairpersonship of the Chief Minister to look after Local Government affairs. It would be appropriate to have representation from each geographic division on this body to make it more inclusive. Adequate representation of women and non-Muslims should be ensured on this Commission. This high powered body should have the final authority to take appropriate decisions regarding any matters pertaining to local governments.
Women should have at least one-third (33%) reserved seats at all tiers of the Local Government. They should be elected through direct voting and not nominated/selected by the men on the elected Councils. Additionally, women should be given party tickets to contest elections on general seats too. Any ancillary structures within the Local Government should also have a minimum of 33% women’s representation to ensure their participation in decision-making process at all levels.
Religious and sectarian minorities, peasants and worker of the labor classes (with fair gender balance) should have adequate representation at all tiers and they should also be elected through direct voting on reserved seats. Criteria for their selection should be well defined to avoid abuse of these reserved slots.
Allocation of development funds to the elected Councils should be made through transparent, fair, rights-based and needs-based criteria. Principles of provincial finance and budgeting should categorically mention indicators like poverty, gender gaps, geographic backwardness and development gap. The Human Development Index empirically establishes these indicators.
Balochistan is a disaster prone area and during the past three years, the province has witnessed a series of devastating catastrophes. The new law should empower and charge the Local Governments to develop and execute disaster risk reduction and disaster management plans under the technical guidance and supervision of Provincial Disaster Management Authority. District Disaster Management Authority or a department should be introduced at district level. The department may have institutional link with Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) yet at the same time a well defined coordination mechanism with elected Local Government AND civil society organizations should be in place. This mechanism should ensure a coordinated response in case of any natural or human made disaster.
The Right to information is a key to empower citizens and ensure transparency and good governance at the local level and is also enshrined in our Constitution. Balochistan can take a progressive step by introducing Right to Information clause in the new Local Government law. Citizens should be given access to information on development planning, budgeting, expenditure, engendering, meeting minutes and other matters of governance at the district level and at the lower tiers. An easily accessible institutional mechanism such as the Provincial Commission on Information should make it simple and convenient for citizens to get updated information on any aspect of the performance of the provincial and Local Government tiers.
The new Local Government law should make a provision for grievance redressal /complaint management mechanism enabling citizens to hold their elected Councils accountable to them, and to check discriminatory practices such as sidelining, threatening or other excesses against women members and other council members or citizens who do not belong to the local power structures. This mandate can be given to the aforementioned Local Government Commission. However access for every citizen should be made convenient through an institutional mechanism. District Ombudspersons can be an option with appropriate powers to make local Govt. departments accountable and efficient. Right of Appeal may also be given to aggrieved parties through Local Government Commission.
No Metropolitan or District Council should be exempted from accountability mechanism. In past a political group managed to evade Audits of local government fund in their areas of influence. Local governments should be subject to accountability and transparency under the constitutional and legal framework of the province. District Public Accounts Committee should also be introduced to create a check and balance with a council member of the opposition of repute as its head.
In the past local development has been biased towards politically driven infrastructure projects at the expense of social delivery in the education, health, water and sanitation sectors. The future system needs to include checks and balances to circumvent such practices.
Local Governments should be made responsible to issue an annual performance report to the Provincial Government and also through the mass media. Such public disclosures should also be in the local languages to ensure wider outreach.
An announcement to hold local government elections on party basis is a welcome decision. In order to ensure and promote democratic culture at the grassroots level and to make them directly responsible to people; District, tahseel and Town/Municipal Committee Chairpersons should be elected through direct voting under adult franchises system
Appointments for the district level bureaucrats of grade 17 and above should be made mandatory for three years unless serious allegations and complaints are established through a committee of elected council members, both from treasury and opposition benches. Right of Appeal may be extended to the aggrieved officer through Local Government Commission.
A representative and empowered district planning and development committee should be included in the new local government regime with a mandate to plan and monitor demand driven development schemes. Composition of the committee should be included both men and women members both from treasury and opposition benches and ex-officio officers.
With an objective to make districts and Talukas financially sustainable, appropriate powers to impose taxes and duties at the district level may be ensured to district councils.