The local government system for Islamabad has long been a demand of citizens of the federal capital. The bureaucratic setup failed to deliver for the last two decades. Through discriminatory and preferential treatment, the bureaucratic setup further deepened the grueling gap between elite and middle class of this city.
So far, no serious effort has been made to introduce local body system in Islamabad to make it an independent and autonomous city without the intervention of ministers and bureaucrats.
Had the apex court not intervened recently the issue would have loomed for another indefinite years.
They were enough quick to come in action and prepared a draft bill (the ICT Local Government Act 2013) according to which, capital city will have a metropolitan corporation, comprising members directly elected from ‘wards’ and will be led by a mayor.
General members and their number will be defined later, who will be elected directly on single ward basis, while women, workers and non-Muslim members will be elected indirectly. Mayor and deputy mayors will be amongst the elected members while, the government may, by notification in the official gazette, specify the number of zones and the number of deputy mayors for the metropolitan corporation on the basis of population of the local government.
However, a bare reading of the draft reveals that a major portion of the draft has been taken from Punjab local government draft without any addition or omission. The draft is not less than an effort to intact the upper hand of bureaucracy in almost all affairs. It is silent on key points. It is not clear yet elections will be held on party basis or not. It also doubted whether or not it will be implemented, as its language does not encourage immediate action of the act that shows how the ‘able’ bureaucrats are still creating hindrances and want to further delay this long-awaited and much-desired legislation.
A federal government’s attorney had submitted earlier a statement before the Supreme Court to hold the elections in the rural areas of the capital city under the Capital Territory Local Government Ordinance 1979. But the apex court directed the government to ensure elections both in the rural as well as urban areas of Islamabad without any distinction.
A draft has been prepared in compliance of the court order by the capital city’s managers. It is specifically mentioned in the draft that an area can be excluded by a simple notification anytime from the limits of LG system.
The possibilities of municipalities and to confine the LG system to rural area are part of the new draft. The clause 2 of the bill says, “it extends to the whole of the Islamabad Capital Territory except any area excluded by the Government by notification in the official Gazette” that means urban areas can be excluded any time by interior ministry through a simple notification.
Its clause 2 (t) says, “local government” means the Metropolitan Corporation, to be known as Islamabad Metropolitan, unless the government by notification specifies other local governments in addition to the Metropolitan Corporation.” While extending the jurisdiction of interior ministry, the bill says “Government” means Federal Government in the ministry of interior.”
Amazingly, this flawed draft is being kept secret from the citizens of the capital city. The baboos even could not find suitable time to replace words Punjab and province with Islamabad and district in the proposed draft during cut-and-the-past exercise.
The draft also shows Islamabad as part of Punjab province. There is no mention of local laws of Islamabad and statement of objects and reasons of the bill is also replica of Punjab LG system. The draft bill that will be sent for approval of the federal cabinet made answerable the elected representatives of Islamabad to the provincial government.
Clause (2) of Chapter IX of deals with local government finance says, “The government shall transfer the grants of a local government in the shape of share of the local government in the “Provincial Finance Commission Award” and share in the proceeds of taxes of the local government collected by the Government, to the local fund of the local government on the monthly basis.”
Besides, putting a number of restrictions on spending of funds, the draft reads, “the audit report of the ‘Auditor-General’ shall be considered by the Public Accounts Committee of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab.”
Similarly, the entire chapter XIV of the draft deals with provincial finance commission that has no relevance with LG system of the capital city. The Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) municipal functions will be transferred to the proposed corporation and rest of its operations, including planning of the city and its development, will continue. But in the draft a number of municipal functions have also not been taken away from CDA, for instance to handle the matter of sign boards.
Though, the corporation will have the powers to impose taxes and generate its funds and it will also have the powers to control and regulate municipal laws with the help of inspectors and wardens.
The draft law also suggests setting up of an independent LG commission to oversee the affairs and working of the metropolitan corporation. The commission will comprise seven to eight members having good reputation in their respective fields to be appointed by the government. The members of the commission will be technocrats, civil society representatives and from the parliament.
The corporation, to be named as Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation or Capital Metropolitan Corporation, will also have reserved seats for women, workers and minorities who will be elected indirectly. But there is no seat reserved for peasant. The corporation will have the powers to impose taxes and generate its funds.
The draft act had no mention of the total number of wards in Islamabad and members of the corporation as the issue had been left on the federal government to decide. There are 12 union councils in Islamabad’s rural areas at present but all of them have been non-functional for the past over two decades due to the failure of the authorities to hold elections.
The bill suggests that the local governments established under this act shall function within the provincial framework and shall faithfully observe the federal and provincial laws. However, the aim of the new LG system as defined in the bill is to devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments for promotion of good governance and effective delivery of services. But the draft bill is simply a plethora of contradictions.
[Azam Khan is Islamabad based journalist]