Challenges to the Local Bodies Structure in “Overly Administered” AJK.

by Hafsa Anis

The hustle and bustle of local bodies’ elections is over, and the political temperature is back to normal in AJK. These elections were held after a halt of three decades. The selection process of Mayors, deputy mayors and chairpersons is yet to be done. The tenure of these newly elected members is four years. The elections were held at district councils, union councils, municipal committees, town committees and Municipal Corporation in all three divisions of AJK. The majority of these newly elected members are enthusiastic youth who pledges to deliver and solve the problems of the public at their doorsteps. AJK has a territory of 13000 sq km, less than the territory of district Gujranwala of Pakistan and a population of 4 million. AJK has a parliamentary system in which the power branches of government are independent of each other and have to function separately. The territory has bicameral legislature consisting of 53 people in lower house which is AJK legislative assembly and 12 in upper house which is AJK council. These people are responsible for law-making. The members of legislative assemblies were given the development budget to spend in their respective constituencies. In the executive branch, AJK has 32 departments of general administration. They all have massive infrastructures and an army of gazetted and non-gazetted officers. Another power branch is judiciary which receives massive perks and incentives. All of them are to manage a territory of 13000 sq km having 4 million people. This makes AJK an “overly administered” territory. But still, society is plagued with the worst examples of corruption and bad governance, which can be summed up in one sentence: “we spend 135 billion rupees (non-development budget) to actually spend 28 billion rupees (development budget)”. Now the question is what and how this structure of newly elected local bodies will deliver at the grassroots level? This new system will have the powers amalgam of the legislative, executive and judiciary powers. According to the local government act 1990, the local bodies’ members will function in “law and order,” “agriculture and “land administration.” In short, the system involves not only the devolution of political power and the distribution of resources at the local level but also the decentralization of administrative authority and management functions, which will make the offices of civil bureaucracy handicapped or marginally functional. But as Socrates said that absolute power corrupts absolutely, there is a fear that the newly elected member will perform better or will pluck the hanging grapes of corruption as happened in Pakistan in Musharraf’s Era. In General Pervez Musharraf’s era in Pakistan, the office of commissioners and deputy commissioners were practically abolished, and the powers were given to Nazims, which proved to be a big mistake. The Nazims and other local bodies’ members got involved in corruption, and the system proved dysfunctional. The politics of Pakistan always influence the politics of AJK. So, LG in AJK will behave in the same pattern for multiple reasons. First, there is the clash of interests between the existing system and the new structure. Allocating a budget to the local body’s members will be a hard pill to swallow for existing MLAs because, with this budget, they used to enjoy luxuries way beyond the affordability of their salaries. Similarly, the function of the district council to resolve local conflicts will not only threaten the bread and butter of the judiciary but also be a question mark on the judiciary’s integrity. Similarly, they will clash with general administration and bureaucracy. Secondly, since the system has been revived after thirty years, people need help understanding it but have very high expectations about its functioning. People expect the system to act very fast, but the system will take time to mature. Thirdly, the political instability and unavailability of a budget will also create hurdles in the functioning of local bodies. Lastly, corruption and mismanagement (if happens Allah forbids it) can damage the whole institution. The challenge now for the PTI government is to implement the structure in its proper letter and spirit lest the power corrupts these new messiahs of AJK.

(-The writer is research officer at CISS AJK)

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir