Social Policy and Development Expert, Asmat Kakar, reports on the role of local government in delivering Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Balochistan. 

Buzi Pass, Makran Coastal Highway, Balochistan. Image credit: umairadeeb

Participatory grassroots local government is inevitable for delivering Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly in poor and marginalised areas. It not only ensures improving access to basic services but provides an effective platform to the poor, peasants, workers and women to participate in decision making and development process undertaken for them. Pakistan has a chequered history of local government. Sometimes, it has got huge powers and resources from federal and provincial governments while sometimes it has been kept powerless and resourceless because of the reluctance of polity. The polity is reluctant because it does not want to establish a robust local government system due to fear of losing powers. When polity undermines the basics of democracy imperative for its strengthening then it is useless to lecture and expect from other pillars of the state to support democracy in the country.  Article 140 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan clearly underlines the obligations of provincial governments to establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments. The article also empowers the Election Commission for holding local government elections.

However, since December 2018 after dissolution of local bodies in Balochistan province, Election Commission of Pakistan is clueless about holding local government elections in the province. It has been more than seven months when provincial government appointed administrators for looking after delivery of services in metropolitan and municipal areas but the question is what about rural areas where most of the population live in chronic poverty and have poor access to  education, healthcare, clean water, food  and employment opportunities.

This delay in holding local government elections in the province is not only violating the constitutional obligations but severely undermining and reversing the gains of previous local governments. When local government are undermined by not holding elections on time, unwilling to devolve resources and powers then poor people suffer the most. Balochistan province which has the highest percentage of poor population needs robust local government system which can provide provision of services and relief to them.

Strengthening local government in Balochistan is perhaps the only viable solution by which government can translate policies into inclusive development and prosperity. When we think of inclusive development we are reminded of Gandhi’s words “I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice”.

Although Article 32 of the 1973 Constitution gives special consideration to the representation of peasants, workers and women but It has been more than seventy years since the country has got independence, we still haven’t taken any sincere and solid effort towards inclusion of poor and women voices in the policing making at grassroots level.

Engagement and participation of peasants, workers and women in local government is very important for achieving SDGs in rural areas of Balohcistan province and for this purpose the higher polity should compromise their powers and resources by giving more space and representation to marginalised segments of the province.

We have seen in the last couple of years when polity has been dragging its feet for not conducting local government elections after 18th Amendment to 1973 Constitution in 2010 just because of their reluctance to devolve powers and resources from provincial governments to local governments. This delaying tactics led Supreme Court of Pakistan to issue orders for conducting local government elections in Punjab and Sindh. The verdict also declared the absence of local governments as against the Constitution and law. Because of court intervention provincial governments had to hold local government elections in their respective provinces in 2014-2015.

This delay in local government election is not providing a productive environment to the international donor agencies who are working on local governance reforms in Balochistan province. Due to absence of local government in the province EU funded and development of Local Development Policy Framework and Localization of SDGs could not have been achieved on time. It was a great opportunity for the provincial government to go through robust and comprehensive sectoral reforms for improving participation of people in development process, social accountability and state-citizen engagement, and oversight over services delivery in province but seems to be in disarray because of reluctance of polity.

It seems provincial government need intervention of the court to fulfill its constitutional obligation. Therefore, provincial government of Balochistan should conduct local government elections as soon as possible to avoid embarrassment from the court and furthering miseries of the people of the province who already are passing through tough conditions because of drought, poor economy, lack of employment opportunities, ethno-religious conflict, and poor governance. Establishing local government in the province has become imperative for putting province on the track of inclusive development and prosperity.

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This piece organically appeared on the International Development LSE blog.

Asmat Kakar is a Social Policy and Development Expert and Graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science. He tweets @asmatkhan19.

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