Izhar Ali Hunzai
We need to reform the current corruption-ridden and inefficient local government system in GB, which is a legacy of colonial rule, top down and outmoded. We need a new local government system, which is for the people, of the people and by the people. We need local governments that deliver all ‘public-community’ services in a professional, cost-effective and well-regulated manner. Today, UC system is the tail end of a large public sector corruption machine, but it can be reformed and made more effective, and responsive to community needs and aspirations. The question is how to change it? I have a game plan!
Crowdsourcing politics to improve it
The game plan is to change the mind-set, and crowd in highly educated young professionals, business and community activists and leaders, to take over local government through UC elections. At present, UC elections are viewed as low-end politics, and not worth contesting by the educated class. We can change this and use UCs as political nurseries for our leaders of tomorrow. If a large number of new leaders contest next local government elections, this November, they can sweep these non-party based election. This will give us a head start in reforming and reinventing UCs as true ‘community governments,” filled with highly educated and professional young leaders accountable to their local constituencies.
Right now UCs are being left to traditional influence peddlers, such as petty contractors and numbardars, who are trained to front for institutionalized corruption. We want to change this and bring in IT specialists and engineers, economists and planners, community activists, youth leaders and entrepreneurs and environmental specialists, both men and women, to clean up this mess and upgrade our politics, closet to our communities.
First step in taking control of our own destiny
An upgraded UC level platform gives us an opportunity to prepare for GBLA level elections, and field competent candidates to run for all competitive elections, public positions and leadership slots in GB government, and at the national level. By attracting best talent and technical experts from every field, we are ensuring high professionalism and accountability, and good governance. These good practices can then easily replicated at district and GB government levels, through public awareness and grassroots networking. This is the only way to get a critical number of new generation leaders, including women, without which we are never going to make a real difference.
UCs current play a very minor role in local development, and it is not just because of lack of public money but also lack of capacity and imagination. In terms of funding local government budget is half a billion rupees, enough to give RS 37 lac to each UC in GB in annual budget. But the average budget a UC gets is around Rs 40,000, after deducting all administrative overheads. Interestingly, everyone knows, accepts, and expects that things will not change. This is a collective failure and a social mindset problem.
What we need is a highly devolved self-governance system at the UC level, that is built on the strengths of local communities and responsive to their needs. Rs 37 lac is good enough money to leverage and raise further resources to provide better services to local communities. UCs can work with civic initiatives, such as community institutions, such as LSO and business, youth and environmental organizations, etc., and unleash an open source development process.
We can also integrate centuries old good practices in common resource management and local governance, such as risk and labor sharing, community sanctions, community infrastructure development and water management and conflict resolution. We can formalize and professionalize and transfer many common tasks, traditionally performed by local communities, such as repairing irrigation channels, and building infrastructure, health and education services, social protection, disaster preparedness, insurance, agricultural inputs and services.
UCs can form a GB wide network and have a larger influence on higher political institutions, and continue to enhance and expand services, through utilizing public funds in a transparent manner, but also mobilizing community resources and donor funds to build hydropower, water and sanitation, and solid waste management projects, to sponsor community schools, training centers, and promote ECD and daycare services to uplift rural areas. This has not happened so far, because government and community are considered as separate worlds, and this perception must change now.
We can upgrade our local government system through democracy, merit and local accountability. A Modern, Progressive and Inclusive Polity in GB must be our destination.
Izhar has served as the GM/CEO of Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP. He has extensive experience working with community organizations in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral .