With the matter of restoration of local bodies pending in the superior courts, ongoing and planned development projects in the provincial capital remain in jeopardy despite the allocation of billions of rupees by the metropolitan corporation in its annual budget.
The citizens have to travel on dilapidated roads and streets lacking repair of streetlights and potholes despite a couple of months of the ongoing financial year having passed.
After the present government came to power, it got approved from Punjab Assembly of a law replacing the Local Government Act 2013. The move abolished the former local government system and elected representatives across Punjab were sent home, including the mayor, deputy mayor, 274 union council nazims, deputy nazims and a large number of councillors in Lahore.
Their term was due to end on December 31 this year.
Lahore mayor Colonel (retd) Mubashir Javed and the heads of a number of city and district governments of the province filed a case in the Supreme Court against the abolition of the system before the stipulated time. After a considerable period, the court ordered restoration of the public representatives in all local bodies under the law of 2013, but did not abolish the Local Government Act 2019.
The government has abolished all union councils in the province under the new law, forming neighbourhood and village councils in the urban and rural areas. Direct election of mayors on a non-party basis was also proposed.
The administrative and financial structure of the local bodies has also been changed and the employees are currently serving under the same law.
The mayors and chairpersons of district councils across Punjab are still striving for the restoration of the former system.
On the other hand, the reinstated mayor of Lahore and other local body members have acquired a restraining order from a court. They contended that since the court had reinstated them, all development work in the city without their consultation should be stopped. Following the orders, development work in local bodies across Punjab has come to a standstill.
As a result, citizens are deprived of development work this year, like last year, and are facing problems.
In the absence of public representatives, instead of seeking schemes for development work during the ongoing financial year, the metropolitan corporation has set aside Rs1.4 billion in its annual budget and Rs523.1 million for the provincial finance commission projects.
More than two months have passed since the beginning of the current financial year, but work on no scheme has begun. No tenders for any scheme could be issued due to the stay order regarding development work. Even ongoing development projects have stalled.
Meanwhile, efforts are reportedly under way to hold local body elections in March.
If the schedule of local elections is announced after December, development work would not be possible again, as a ban will be imposed by the Election Commission. Thus, despite billions of rupees being spent on the election of village and neighbourhood councils, there will be no development work. Meanwhile, almost the whole financial year would have passed.
When contacted, Lahore Commissioner Muhammad Usman said that carrying out development work in the provincial capital and providing municipal services to the citizens was the top priority of the authorities. However, instructions issued by the courts were being implemented, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2021.