LAHORE -  Even after promulgation of the district administration system, the civil and police factions of the government are at loggerheads for their powers, leaving the public at large to suffer.

The new system, instead of delivering and resolving the issues of people, would further confuse them. “It took years to understand the Musharruf era district government system and it would be hard for the masses to comprehend and benefit from the PML-N given district setups,” said political figures both from the ruling and opposition parties.

A DC, requesting privacy, said the Punjab government wanted a weak district setup and to empower administrative secretaries. He said both the political leadership and the senior bureaucracy in Punjab wanted a weak district setup as compared to the pre-devolution system. “On the one hand, all sectors want compliance of their tasks through the DC office; on the other, they curtailed its powers,” he complained. The DCO could deliver as the head of eleven departments, principal accounting officer of the district government and ‘chairman P&D’ in the development works, he claimed. He could transfer and post officers up to grade-18.

The Punjab government wants to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs), but with the help of a handicapped district setup, the DC held. International bodies and donor agencies want multidimensional poverty reduction measures with more information at the district level that only a powerful DC could ensure, he said. After the provincialied system, it would be hard to satisfy them as the administrative secretary would not be able to come up to the required expectations, the DC held. Moreover, it would be hard to meet Vision 2025 under the given half-baked district system, he averred.

He said the transition was smoother in Gen Musharruf era. DCO was posted in each district with two other officers to comprehend the new setup that was people-centered while the DC and the ADC were also kept intact. Moreover, the world over, there is people-centered local system for the welfare of masses. “The people had created awareness of the 16-year old system and they knew how to benefit from that system. Now they would face difficulties while approaching the newly created offices like DC, additional DCs (headquarters, general, revenue, finance and planning). Moreover, there are newly established district health and education authorities to the surprise of the common man, he said. While provincial administrative departments both health and education will also remain intact. New authorities, companies, agencies and projects like Punjab Food Authority, Health Care Commission also working on authority mode, Land Records Computerization Authority and many more were working in parallel to the administrative departments with overlapping functions.

An administrative secretary, also on condition of anonymity, said the fight between police and civil administration would add to people’s miseries. “People want their problems’ solution and nothing else. They are least concerned about who solves them, a district magistrate or an elected representative, the officer held. “It is easy for them to visit a local leader as compared to an officer for development purposes as well as against police brutalities,” said the bureaucrat.

Talking about the new district administration setup through an ordinance, he said senior officers are happy over it as it strengthens them while junior or mid-career ones who wish to be posted in district field formations as DCs, ADCs or ACs are grieved. Moreover, their promotion prospects have already shrunk as many of their cadre posts have been abolished. Many ACs, both from the provincial and federal services, have conveyed their concerns on the new system.

As per the finance department notification, 299 executive seats at district level that include DCOs, additional district collectors (ADCs), ADCGs, EDOs, DOs, senior administrative officers have been abolished while 153 new posts of DCs, additional DCs have been created. It would further shrink the promotion prospects of junior officers.

Opposition leader in Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, while talking to The Nation, rejected the ordinance, terming it unconstitutional. He said the government should withdraw it otherwise the opposition would launch a movement. “An All Parties Conference (APC) has been called on this issue today. We will challenge it after due consultation,” Rasheed added. He said the government had imposed a system with more powers to the DCs and less to the elected representatives.”

Another opposition MPA, Dr Waseem Akhtar, said the Musharraf era district government setups were far better than this though it had deficiencies like ombudsmen could not be posted on the pressure of the district nazims. He said the government would empower the DC with magisterial powers gradually as it wanted more provincialised system of governance. Moreover, the MNAs and MPAs would continue getting development budgets.

An MPA of the ruling party, who also served as a nazim, requesting anonymity, said the Musharruf regime district government system was better except some defects. He said it made all the departments local except police as proposed safety commissions to supervise police could not be established that made thana culture worse. He said the current move seems as an anti-Musharruf move by appointing a poor mayor and chairman of district council etc. He said a district nazim had powers to plan district government budget, besides finalising development schemes. He also used to write ACRs of the DCOs.

He said the bureaucracy, by presenting a confused system that is neither provincial nor local, created obstacles for the political elite. “The political leadership could not comprehend that it was almost the election year and introduction of such a poor system with little capacity to deliver would damage its public image. People would be forced to visit the provincial capital to deal with their provincial matters which were resolved in the district level. People don’t know that the secretaries whom they want to see for their issues remain out of the Civil Secretariat in CM-called meetings and their own meetings to ensure compliance of the CM directives,” the parliamentarian said.

Even in districts, a lot of time would be required to understand the system and newly established offices of the ADCs etc.

An additional district and sessions judge, requesting anonymity, said many of the district judges wanted to get rid of the justice of peace powers (22A-22B) as it consumed much of the court time. He said that in many countries these powers were being exercised by the executive officers as before the devolution of 2001 here as well.