The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has said that local governments around the world were at the forefront of the current COVID-19 crisis, but in Pakistan these institutions were to an extent disconnected from its citizens and “saddled with a governance style which is top down, reactive and authoritative”.
This has led to the weakening of the essential state-society social contract leading to marginalisation, group grievances and conflict and social resilience in the country, Dawn news reported on Monday citing the UNDP as saying in its first “COVID-19 — Pakistan Socio-economic Impact Assessment and Response Plan”.
Despite efforts to provide an adequate response to the pandemic in Pakistan, results remain poor.
Traders and businessmen are dissatisfied by the federal government’s unilateral decisions affecting their businesses.
Similarly, the medical health professionals are highlighting the unavailability of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the lack of an efficient system of testing and tracking, it said.
The poorer segments of the population are worried as they have lost their livelihoods, with many people relying on daily wages. As the pandemic has hit almost every segment of society and in the absence of a consensus on the strategy to adopt, frustration, insecurity and uncertainty are widespread, according to the report which was released on the weekend.
Elected local governments would have been effective not only in implementing federal and provincial decisions but in their localisation, due to the trust they enjoy within the population.
In the past, the state-society disconnect in Pakistan’s case has often been filled by violent extremist organised actors who have exploited these grievances and the neglect and lack of state support in times of crises to win support among vulnerable groups.
It is believed that the presence of elected local governments would have created an effective bridge between the government and the population, defusing the current situation in which the citizens have been losing trust in governmental decisions, Dawn news quoted the report as saying.
Currently elected local governments are not present in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan, while functional local governments are present only in Sindh and Islamabad Capital Territory to abide by their constitutional role. In the three provinces the local governments were rolled back by the provincial governments in 2019.
Although there is a national disaster management plan, the pandemic highlights that local governments also need strong emergency management systems like District Disaster Management