KP government delaying local government polls?

Rules for delimitation have not yet been issued, writes Sohail Khattak

KP government delaying local government polls?
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is struggling to conduct local government elections in the province within the stipulated time frame. The previous local governments completed their term on August 28.

Section-219 (4) of the Elections Act 2017 states the fresh elections for new local government representatives must be conducted within 120 days after the expiration of the previous term. Elections were expected by the end of 2019.

Sources privy to the matter say that KP’s local government department has been delaying notification of rules needed to complete the delimitation process ahead of the polls. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) conducts the delimitation process in accordance with the rules framed by the KP local government department. In the 2015 local government polls, it was the KP government which conducted the delimitation. However, legally it is the mandate of the ECP.

Sources in the ECP say that the elections are unlikely to be held any time soon as delimitation is a lengthy process which could take at least four months. After the completion of delimitation, the commission would issue a schedule for elections. This could take another one month.

The government is also facing issues with classifying the tehsil councils into urban and rural categories. Furthermore, financial constraints of the government, at both provincial and federal levels, are also said to be among the factors forcing the delay.
The government has allocated Rs46 billion for the districts in its annual development program. These funds are to be spent through the local governments

The KP government has allocated Rs46 billion for the districts in its annual development program. These funds are to be spent through the local governments. Since the government is cash-starved, it appears it is deliberately delaying the elections.

Local government department officials say that they have completed the process on their part. The rules have been framed and completed. The matter is pending before Local Government Minister Shahram Khan Tarakai who will get approval from the cabinet. Only then will the department be able notify the rules, they say.

Officials say as per the rules, the ECP will conduct the delimitation process and details will be shared with the public. The rules will define timelines for public objections and hearings by an authority on these objections.

“The local government will provide maps, figures and details of all village councils and neighborhood councils in the province,” said an official dealing the matter. He added that the ECP, in consultation with the provincial government, will hold the elections. “The consultation is underway and only the government can answer why they are delaying the elections,” the official said.

“We are waiting for delimitation rules which the provincial government has not yet provided to us,” said Sohail Ahmed, the ECP spokesperson in KP. Ahmed said that the ECP had updated voter lists and would begin work on delimitation once the provincial government handed over the rules to them, along with the data and details needed by the commission.

To a question regarding the delay in the elections, Shahram Khan said it was due to issues relating to the delimitation process. He, however, did not answer why he was delaying the process. “Elections will be held early this year. We are working on it,” he said.

Talking to The Friday Times, KP Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai also said that the delimitation process was taking time but reiterated that elections will be held soon.

There are also questions about the allocation of Rs46 billion for the districts under the annual development program, as there are no local bodies to spend these funds.

The government says that deputy commissioners will use these funds and execute development schemes in the absence of local bodies. This goes against the rules mentioned in the local government law. Further delay in elections means very little or no time for elected representatives to spend these funds.

Unlike the 2015 local bodies, in which the local government system had three tiers, the coming setup will be comprise of two tiers of government (Tehsil/Town Councils and the Village/Neighborhood Councils). The KP government drastically amended the KP Local Government Act 2013 and the district tier, which was the most powerful, was abolished.

The 35 districts of KP, including the merged tribal districts comprise 4,203 village/neighborhood councils.

Local government officials say that the purpose of abolishing the district tier was to devolve powers to lower levels in the true sense, but time will decide the success of the new system. For now it appears that the administrative setup at the tehsil level is not as strong as the one operating at the district level. Under the new setup the village council will be a powerful body. “We hope that the setup would soon be at par with the one in the previous government,” the official said.

The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar