The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has missed the 120-day deadline stipulated in the constitution to start the electoral process of a new local government after the previous one wound up at the end of August last year. What makes this worse is that two weeks after the deadline elapsed, the provincial government has not even notified the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold the elections, and reports claim that the government is in no way or shape ready to carry out the electoral exercise any time soon.

Political parties paying little attention to local governments is not unexpected, but the fact this glaring oversight took place in KP, where Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is in power, is more damaging. Promoting grassroots level democracy has been a primary objective of the party as stated by leaders on several occasions. The party’s promises of bringing in a change in politics and governance do not mean much if it cannot take the issue of local governance more seriously.

Local governments form the bedrock of any governance model; especially one where representatives are elected through universal franchise. Everything from local waste disposal to managing public goods such as streetlights and road repair are delegated to local governments in developed democracies across the world. Tall claims of fixing all of the country’s problems are meaningless if national-level parties are not willing to encourage lower levels of government, which is a key component of ensuring that citizens have access to the services they need. Delivering through on electoral promises is well and good, but a government’s responsibility extends to smooth functioning of districts and tehsils as well and failure to elect local government representatives only helps the government in avoiding being answerable to the people when electoral promises remain unfulfilled.

The Pakistani model instead relies on local MNAs and MPAs to take notice of problems and use their discretionary funds for a quick and sometimes only temporary fix. At best, governance becomes reactionary instead of a proactive initiative to improve the lives of the general public. The ruling party is no fan of discretionary funds itself; Prime Minister Imran Khan has often talked about ending the practice of handing out discretionary funds as they do little more than to increase the vote bank of provincial and federal level representatives.

The KP government must announce a clear timeline for the next local government elections, the people of KP need representatives at the lower level that can address their concerns. The federal and provincial governments owe this to the general public.