By Zafar Iqbal
THE new local government system installed in 2001 is not necessarily bad, except that the manner in which it has been implemented is rather pig-headed. It is anti-deputy commissioner, probably deliberately so.
The election of nazims was supposed to be non-political. The secret expectation was clearly that they would be supporters of the military government. In the 2002 elections it probably went according to the plan and the PPP and the PML-N became minorities in parliament.
On the other hand local government became even more corrupt. The police were handed over to the nazims and, according to my personal experience, the district police officer did whatever the nazim wanted him to do. In order to show that the police were independent of the nazim the Police Act was modified. This made everything worse.
Civil servants who worked in the provinces will confirm this, except that since the present government is anti-nazim their statements are not likely to be believed unless they have recently retired, and even then they would be doubted. In India they have separated the judiciary from the executive, but the responsibility for maintenance of law and order rests with the DC.
In principle, elected local government is a desirable development. When one takes Pakistan’s social and political environment one has to adjust the institution efficiency. In this case the other EDOs would report to the DC who would report to the nazim. This would lead to a certain amount of friction between the nazim and the DC — assuming that the DC was committed to public service. The other issue would be development expenditure. Was it designed for the personal benefit of the nazim or for benefiting the citizens of the area?
Assuming that nazims were elected through a free and fair process they may not necessarily belong to the party in power at the provincial level. Fair play is not part of our political process as yet. But given a relatively free and objective media this may gradually happen. Seeing how the media is behaving at present creates some doubts: they are very careful about criticising the people currently in power, although they had no hesitation in going after Gen Musharraf.
The reason is quite clear if one has read exposés of the Indian press by Rahul Singh and Kuldip Nayar. The capitalist owners of the press have to be careful not to upset the government which has various means of harassment at its disposal. Gen Musharraf likes to defer matters until he has to act in desperation which he did on Nov 3, 2007. Any person with better sense, if he wanted to do that sort of thing, would have done it on March 8 instead.
If the Musharraf regime had been objective about local government, they should have visited India and possibly Sri Lanka. In the West, visits to France, the UK and US would have been useful. There are differences in all three. In France, until recently it was the prefect who monitored the local government — not entirely dissimilar to arrangements in India. In the UK and US things are a bit different. The police there reports to the county chief constable or sheriff.
In the US, I have only experience of California where the police reported to the city manager. This concept was introduced in America to improve the quality of local administration. The city manager/county manager reported to the mayor in council. Since vocational training is important in the US the selection of such people began to shift to individuals who had acquired an MPA degree.
My friend Walter Hahn, who was the city manager of the town to which I was attached, ultimately obtained a master’s degree in public administration along with his son, Curt, from the University of Southern California. He sent me a newspaper cutting which showed both father and son receiving their degrees on the same day. He subsequently moved on to become the city manager of San Diego.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of ‘manager’ was introduced to improve the performance of local government. In Pakistan Gen Musharraf tried to do the opposite by trying to weaken the role of the DC. Perhaps it was the result of conscious or subconscious sibling rivalry. His eldest brother was supposed to be the clever son of the family and as was popular those days joined the Civil Service, renamed by ZAB as the District Management Group and levelled with other services.Currently there is a lot of talk of doing away with the nazim. An elected local government is, in many ways, part of democracy. Checks and balances on the power of the nazim can always be there. The DC will represent the provincial government. There will be some tension between the nazim and the DC especially if the nazim represents another political party. In case he or she is a member of the political party in power the DC will be at a disadvantage.
It all depends on the quality of political governments which tend to be dictatorial rather than democratic. But this is an evolutionary process which will come to a stop unless we continue trying to practise democracy with emphasis on suitable institutional development. Its main constituents are a competent non-political machinery of government, generally referred to as the bureaucracy. A free and diligent media and a competent and independent judiciary, given how we have been drifting over the years, are not easy to bring about.
The other major issue is revenues which should be assigned to the district government. In India, about 100 years ago, with the evolution of increasing government responsibility, a matrix system had naturally evolved. It was not celebrated: it was simply taken as a fact of life. When one comes to think of it all provincial departments such as the police, magistracy, education, health, irrigation, etc operate in the manner trumpeted in business as a great development — the matrix system. Like all systems, it has its pluses and minuses.
The people in power should try and make local government more efficient instead of abolishing it.
Source: Daily Dawn, 1/8/2008