Democracy Deficit

Malik Achakzai reports on the dysfunctional local governments in Balochistan

Democracy Deficit
The Eighteenth constitutional amendment devolved administrative and legislative powers and finances to the provinces. The Constitution of Pakistan mandates establishment of local governments to achieve a decentralized and inclusive system of governance. Balochistan was the first province to conduct local government elections in 2014.

Local bodies in Balochistan comprise one Metropolitan Corporation for the provincial capital Quetta led by a Mayor, 4 municipal corporations, 54 municipal committees, 32 district councils and 635 union councils. Even after three years, the local governments remain ineffective because provincial government has not empowered the local governing structures with necessary political, fiscal and administrative powers. The ruling coalition, comprising Pakistan Muslim League, Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the National Party, seem unwilling to devolve more resources and powers to the local governments.

School children in Khuzdar
School children in Khuzdar

People of the insurgency-hit province had hoped for efficient governance from the nationalist political parties. All three political parties in the ruling coalition won the local bodies elections. However, these parties are not fully committed to the idea of grassroots democracy. The elected members of the local bodies in the province are disappointed and angry. In an interview with The Friday Times, Dr. Kalimullah Khan, Mayor of Quetta Metropolitan Corporation, complained that the Balochistan government does not believe in devolving powers to the local governments. “Three years have passed and the pending elections in many constituencies are yet to be completed,” says Dr. Kalimullah.

The Mayor views the provincial cabinet and the bureaucracy as key bottlenecks. “It is now clear that the local government elections were only an eyewash to satisfy the Supreme Court that had asked all provinces to hold elections,” says Dr. Kalimullah. “The constitution clearly states that the government should devolve power to the locally elected governments but the provincial government in Balochistan is reluctant and only wants to complete its tenure. It has little interest in fixing the system.”

Sardar Mustafa Khan Tareen, the provincial minister for Local Government and Rural Development, endorsed Dr Kalimullah’s views. Tareen told TFT that he has boycotted the meetings of the provincial cabinet because ministers and elected members of the provincial assemblies are reluctant to spend their development budgets through local governments in their respective constituencies. “Whenever we put forward a summary for the approval of cabinet to devolve provincial powers at the local level, it is not approved. The bureaucracy including deputy commissioners and divisional commissioners are not ready to share their authority with the elected representatives at the local level,” added Tareen.


Local governments receive budgetary allocations through a Provincial Finance Commission Award. Balochistan government allocated Rs. 5 billion during the last budget for local governments. Sardar Mustafa Khan Tareen, believes that this allocation will not meet the required expenditure of the local governments in the province. “Why should a member of provincial assembly receive funds for development projects when his duty is to legislate?”, asks Tareen.

Leaders of the local governments in the province have filed petitions in the superior courts to rectify the situation. The judicial proceedings so far remain inconclusive. Dr. Kalimullah, Mayor of Quetta Metropolitan Corporation told TFT: “We have decided to “resign” collectively because without the requisite authority to serve, why should elected officials continue in office?” In his view, the delay tactics of the provincial government and bureaucracy will continue until the next general elections.

Meanwhile, development experts have urged the provincial government to spend development budget through local bodies in the province for improved service delivery and accountability. They point towards the model adopted by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, which spends “at least 30 percent of the development budget through local government bodies”, says Nadir Gul Barrech, an expert on local governance and democracy.

The civil society in Balochistan is concerned. Qasim Khan Mandokhel, an advocate, thinks that peaceful protests are needed to implement the constitutional provisions in letter and spirit. It was important to build a democratic culture in the province, which is not possible without empowering local governance. In an interview with TFT, he said that the political parties ruling the province have given up on the promises made during the election campaign.

Seddiq Panezai, a political analyst from Balochistan, holds that development funds allocated to the provincial legislators are instruments to build local electoral support in individual constituencies. The capture of development funds by provincial legislators enables them to strengthen and maintain their patronage network. Yet, “non-functional local bodies reflect the failure of the provincial government to serve the interest of people”, says Panezai.