Ibrahim Hasan Murad
In a thriving democracy, power must belong to the people. Comparing governance in different parts of the world, the devolution of power to municipalities and local bodies emerges as a crucial factor. Scandinavia serves as a stellar example of this approach. Sweden, for instance, manages about two-thirds of its public expenditure at the local level, contributing to an impressive 83% voter turnout in the 2018 local elections. Copenhagen has set ambitious goals to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025 through green initiatives. Reykjavik empowers its citizens with an online platform for proposing and debating local laws and city developments.
Empowering municipalities has been shown to result in efficient service delivery, high citizen participation, and a strong sense of ownership. However, in many developing nations like Pakistan, power has historically been concentrated at the central level, leading to bureaucratic red tape, excessive formalities, protocols, and lengthy procedures, which have widened the gap between public service and its recipients.
Recent developments in Pakistan, including local elections in Sindh, Balochistan, and KPK, as well as positive changes in Punjab’s Department of Local Government and Community Development (LG & CD), indicate a shift in the right direction. Under the leadership of Mr. Mohsin Naqvi, the Punjab caretaker government sought to enhance public service delivery by transitioning from a department-centric to a citizen-centric approach, encapsulated by the slogan “Ap Baldiyah App Ki” – emphasizing that local government officers exist to serve the public, not the other way around. This shift in mindset is essential for meeting citizens’ needs and satisfaction, as even minor improvements at the local level can significantly impact people’s perception of the government as a whole.
One major realization was that Punjab lacked elected local government representation, denying citizens the opportunity to influence governance. To address this, the “Volunteers of Local Government Program” recruited 10,000 young individuals to assist the LG & CD in improving services, promoting cleanliness and sanitation, beautifying cities through tree plantations, highlighting shortcomings, and enhancing municipal services.
Digitization was a top priority in the LG & CD Ministry. Collaborating with the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), the department expedited e-tendering, e-bidding, and e-auction systems to enhance the transparency of the tender submission process. The province’s cattle markets saw a remarkable transformation, with public auctions leading to a 50% increase in revenue.
Another significant achievement was the digitalization of services and the introduction of doorstep delivery. The 1198 Badliyah Helpline addressed basic issues, allowing citizens to report and follow up on problems from the comfort of their homes. Birth certificate issuance in Punjab was also streamlined, eliminating unnecessary expenses that citizens used to incur.
Cleanliness and waste management were pivotal indicators of citizen satisfaction with the governance system. Punjab launched a massive 15-day province-wide cleanliness campaign, resulting in the removal of nearly 200,000 tons of garbage, extensive public awareness campaigns, road washing, slum cleaning, sewerage line de-silting, and more.
The Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) significantly improved cleanliness in Lahore while achieving substantial monthly savings. Local governments across Punjab were empowered to issue fines for littering, further enhancing the cleanliness and efficiency of the system.
These accomplishments in Punjab highlight the potential for positive change in Pakistan. The recent steps taken regarding local government serve as a positive starting point and set an example for future governments. They mark the initial stages of a transformative process aimed at reshaping the existing power structure and making Punjab’s local government system as effective as any other, emphasizing that with clear intent, will, and consistency, positive change is achievable.