“In human history, since the beginning, the centralized/bureaucratic government structure was considered an effective tool for ruling the country and governing the organizations. The centralized development approach believed in rule of thumb and vested powers in the king or the sovereign. With the passage of time, history observed the paradigm shift and unitary form of Government failed to ensure development in the way it was theorized. In the 70 and 80s decades of last century, the most productive concept, i.e. “decentralization”, emerged. Its goal was to enhance administrative and economic efficiency; improve implementation of development programmes and a greater degree of responsiveness to local needs of the people as well as of the society.
Decentralized form of government gives empowerment to the masses and ensures their participation in formulation of policies for their country. Some of the political authors are of the opinion that democracy and local governance are indispensable to each other.
Now the question is if the above mentioned hypothesis is true for Pakistan.
Here in our country, there is a great debate over the effectiveness of old colonial commissioner system vs. local government system. Unfortunately decentralization in Pakistan was introduced by the military dictators and they mostly utilized the system to fulfill their ulterior motives and for completion of their own agendas.
First it was Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who on 7 October 1958 imposed the Martial Law, and latter introduced the local government system with the name of Basic Democracy (BD). Majority of political scientist believes that the overall purpose of Basic Democracy system was to have a pool of 8,000 elected representatives of the people, who were under the direct control of the president. Just after one month of their selection, in February 1962, these electorate were subsequently used and influenced by Mr. Ayob for his selection as president of Pakistan; else he was not able to defeat the than contester Ms. Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
The second example is of Pervez Musharraf, who introduced the “Local Government Ordinance 2001”. The main motive behind the law was to bypass the political forces and to legitimize his illegal military regime. This came into being in the shape of “presidential referendum” which had no base in the constitution at all.
It is evident that the whole local government machinery was utilized and even the question that was put to the people for referendum was “Will you vote for the survival of the local government system, would you like to elect President General Pervez Musharraf as President of Pakistan for five years?”
As a result, in 2008, when new elections were held in the country and Musharraf was forced to leave the country. With the end of his regime, discussion about his local government started by different stakeholders and none of the province was ready to own his system.
This system was marked failed due to the following reasons:
- DCOs (District Coordination Officers, the Head of Administrative machinery of a District in Pakistan) and other bureaucratic machinery are naturally against local government system, as they never ever like to be under the control of others;
- Members of the parliament, including provincial member dislike it as per this system, mostly the developmental funds goes through the elected local Government representative;
- Political parties dislike it for being a remnant of a dictator regime;
- During the Musharraf regime, the law and order situation, as well the prices of daily utilities were rise by leaps and bounds. Common people are of the opinion that the than local government system is for behind in prompt response compared to commissioner system.
- Even the political parties accept or reject the local government system based on their political motives. Karachi example can be quoted where MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement, a political party having strong existence in Sindh Pakistan) is in its favor, whereas ANP (Awami National Party, a political party of Pakistan) asking for its abolition and restoration of old commissioner system.” – Hamad Khan – Punjab, Pakistan