PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has requested the United Nations Development Programme to continue offering financial and technical support for the establishment and strengthening of the new local government system in the merged tribal districts of the province.
The UNDP’s support for the Local Government Ambassador Programme meant for creating awareness of local bodies among people of merged districts, was discontinued at the end of last month, while the initiative for the strengthening of the tehsil municipal administration in tribal districts is scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of the current month.
Sources said the UNDP was providing $1.3 million for the Local Government Ambassador Programme and around 120 employees, who were hired in Jan this year, had also been laid off.
Sources in the local government department told Dawn that since the provincial government didn’t intend to hold the local body elections in near future, the UN agency had lost interest in supporting it.
They said the UNDP had been supporting the local government department through the local government reform unit (LGRU).
Uncertainty looms large over the holding of the local government elections in the province. The local bodies had completed four years tenure on Aug 28, 2019. Under Section 219 of the Election Act, 2017, fresh polls have to be held within 120 days of the expiry of the term of the local bodies.
Initially, the local body elections were delayed due to unspecified reasons but later, the outbreak of Covid-19 proved a blessing in disguise for the government, which delayed the polls through the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Epidemic Control and Emergency Relief Ordinance, 2020, promulgated on May 12.
“Since its inception, the LGRU has assumed a central place in the department as a technical and advisory forum providing the much-needed technical assistance in embarking upon various reforms in the local governance,” the local government secretary informed the country head of the UNDP in a letter.
Through the UNDP support, the LGRU had undertaken a number of ‘very critical interventions’ in the areas of legislative and policy reforms, strengthening of planning and budgeting regimes, capacity building and community awareness. However, there is an evident curtailment of the UNDP support to the LGRU.
Currently, there are only two LGRU interventions supported by the UNDP, including the Local Government Ambassador Programme for the creation of public awareness of LG system and strengthening of the administration of nascent TMA.
The department has mentioned in the letter that the first intervention is subject to closure by the end of the current month, while the second will close by the end of next month.
The letter said the discontinuation of the UNDP’s support to the two interventions in particular and to the LGRU in general was not only in contravention to the aforementioned MoU but will also create unfavourable ripples across various stakeholders including local political leadership.
“Some of the local political leadership has already conveyed their concern in respect of discontinuation of the above mentioned programmes,” it said.
The department said continuation of the support was gravely needed, especially given the normalcy of situation after the Covid-19 pandemic and that environment was becoming feasible for holding the local body elections.
The local government system in the merged tribal districts (former Fata) does not exist.
The provincial government has so far divided seven merged tribal districts into 702 village and neighbourhood councils to introduce the three-tier local government system there.
The division of tribal districts into village and neighbourhood councils was a prerequisite for the implementation of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act, 2013.
According to the government system, which has been functional in the province since 2015, the village and neighbourhood council is the lowest tier among the district and tehsil tiers.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2020