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Punjab puts preparations for local polls in top gear

Punjab puts preparations for local polls in top gear

LAHORE: In view of an indication by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the delimitation of wards will be completed by the end of August, the Punjab government has put preparations for the local elections in top gear, holding frequent meetings to iron out difficulties in the new local system.

Official sources informed Dawn on Friday that the ECP, in a meeting held a few days ago, had indicated that the delimitation process would be completed by Aug 29. This would follow the election schedule for the local councils to be created under the Punjab Local Government Act 2013 that would wrap up the devolution-based local governments introduced by Gen Musharraf in 2001.

Sources said that after the indication, the Punjab government had ordered the authorities concerned to give top priority to the preparations for the local elections. Frequent meetings were being held in this regard, they said.

They said one of the major tasks was the constitution of the district health and education authorities. The law provided for them but was silent over the ratio of its technocrat and elected members.

It, however, provided that the number of elected members of the councils would be higher than the technocrats. But the authorities were of the view that there was a need to strike a balance so that the technocrats could not be overawed by the elected members in decision making and enforcement of the authorities’ policies.

Initially, a proposal was made by the local government department but it was rejected by the authorities concerned early this week, giving the task to the health and education departments with the view that they had their own dimensions and should therefore propose the ratio of the number of the elected and technocrat members.

Another major issue being considered at the moment was how to fund the new local councils. At present, the local governments being headed by district coordination officers (DCOs) in their capacity as administrators were getting funds through the Punjab Finance Commission which would cease to exist after the local elections.

The new commission would be constituted after the elections. And, therefore, it was being considered to make some transitory arrangements for the transfer of funds to the new local councils. It was also being considered how to transfer the huge non-lapsable funds accumulated in the accounts of the DCOs (administrators) over the years.

Transfer of assets and liabilities too was a part of the process. And it was also required to make an inventory of the assets and liabilities of the existing local governments for their transfer to the new bodies.

A consequential legislation required to adjust the new local system with other laws in the province was another issue being pursued actively. So far, five devolved departments, including the livestock and the agriculture, had sent their proposed laws to the law department for checking.

“Yes, we have started preparing for the elections after they were held in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the nod from the ECP,” an official said.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2015

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