The Islamabad Conundrum
Not many capital cities in the world today are as deprived as Islamabad when it comes to self-governance. The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), though a distinct unit under the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, is known as the Chief Commissioner’s province, like our neighbour Delhi.
Delhi remained unrepresented until 1952 when a Provincial Legislative Assembly had been formed in the city which devolved the legislative powers of the district to its duly elected representatives. This system was scrapped in 1956 but subsequently reinstalled in 1993. Since then, New Delhi has had its own Provincial Legislative Assembly which caters to the legislative requirements of the district.
In our country, Islamabad has neither been provided with a provincial legislative assembly nor its own representative government. However, local government elections were held in Islamabad for the first time in the 1980s, restricted to Islamabad’s rural areas with limited powers. The local governments were dissolved in the early 90s due to their poor performance and Islamabad was again ruled by the bureaucratic setup through the Chief Commissioner Islamabad without any democratic representation at any level. After the proclamation of emergency in October 1999, the former President General Pervez Musharraf in his first address to the nation set out a seven-point agenda which included “devolution of power to the grassroots level” and set up a team to introduce a large-scale reforms package. Under the Devolution Plan 2000, the Local Government Ordinance 2001 was promulgated. Consequently, elections were held and local governments were formed across the country except in Islamabad in order to maintain direct control over the district administration.
Upon passing of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution on 19th April 2010, Article 140-A was inserted into the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 which called for the establishment of local governments in all provinces for the devolution of financial, administrative and political functions. The political consensus which had appeared in the Constitutional Amendment faded away when it came to its implementation for obvious political reasons. However, upon the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s directions in 2014 in the Rab Nawaz case, the federal as well as provincial governments had to follow the constitutional diktat to hold elections in the provinces as well as in the Islamabad Capital Territory.
Ever since its inception in 2016, the local government of Islamabad, which includes the Metropolitan Corporation and Union Councils, faced hurdles created by the federal government in general and the bureaucracy and political rivals in particular. The Ministry of Interior delayed the transfer of departments from the Chief Commissioner Office (ICT Administration) and the Capital Development Authority to the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI). The division of departments took place through a notification issued by the Ministry in January 2017 (at least on paper).
Islamabad’s bureaucracy does not seem to want to share power with the elected representatives as even after four years the ICT Administration, through the Chief Commissioner Office, still holds the Department of Local Government and Rural Development under its fold and refuses to transfer the department along with its assets to MCI. Adding insult to the injury, it continues to exercise its powers and functions by announcing development schemes to glorify its own office. The Capital Development Authority, on the other hand, enjoys control over the employees transferred into MCI and continues to collect taxes despite the fact that the law which empowered CDA to collect taxes in the district has been expressly repealed under the Local Government Act 2015. To this day, CDA has collected and retained approximately four billion rupees under the head of property tax alone, which belongs to MCI, and refuses to transfer the amounts to the latter. CDA still holds the finance wing despite its division in January 2017, so MCI can neither utilize the funds available in its account by itself nor can it distribute the funds to the Union Councils.
The federal government headed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which campaigned during the elections for an effective local government system and devolution of powers, not only scrapped the existing local governments in Punjab since last year but also failed to hold fresh local government elections in the province. Further, the PTI-led government appointed Chief Commissioner Islamabad as the Chair of CDA. This appointment makes it even more difficult for MCI to get its fair share of power in the district as the two strong and seasoned bureaucratic institutions are currently being headed by the same person who refuses to share power in the district. The Mayor of Islamabad, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, has been reduced to a powerless ceremonial figure by the PTI-led government and to get a fair share of power in the district, he must approach the court. It is in this backdrop that a recent attempt to oust the Mayor was launched through the Chair of the Local Government Commission, Mr Ali Nawaz Awan SAPCDAA, who recommended the Mayor’s suspension. The PTI government, despite all its promises to bring good governance and devolution of power, has reduced the Commission to a veritable arm of the government.
While all of this happens, Islamabad’s citizens tend to suffer the most as the performance of all institutions slumps due to internal rifts. Meanwhile, confusion prevails among citizens regarding Islamabad being a province without any representative provincial government and a district with a crippled local government. The provision of services, like water and sanitation, waste management, horticulture, road maintenance and infrastructure, has been deteriorating due to the scarcity of resources to cope with Islamabad’s ever growing population. The first ever democratic district local government of Islamabad has been left crippled by the federal government. The national legislature appears to be least bothered about the growing needs and requirements of the district, as important issues like police reforms, land revenue laws and criminal procedures remain unattended.
Given the complex ratio of political parties in the Parliament, legislation focusing only on Islamabad has become more difficult than ever. While the rest of the provinces have their own legislative assemblies in place to cope with provincial-level issues, Islamabad suffers due to a lack of its own assembly. Islamabad needs an independent and functional local government and its own provincial legislative assembly well-equipped to cope with the legislative and administrative requirements of the district. Our politicians must understand that democracy cannot take root in this country until it first takes root within their minds and that the devolution of power will in fact strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.