THE future of the Local Governments will reportedly be high on the agenda when Prime Minister Gilani meets provincial chief ministers on Saturday. Uncertainty has persisted about the future of the system introduced by Gen (retd) Musharraf after the February 18 elections. Newly installed provincial governments have demanded that the system be scrapped or drastically overhauled. The Local Bodies set-up introduced by Ziaul Haq in 1979 was widely criticized for being subservient to the bureaucracy. The present system introduced under the rubric of the devolution of power by Gen (retd) Musharraf, involved massive structural changes in governance at the provincial and district levels. The bureaucracy was made subservient to the District Nazim. The executive magistracy was abolished. The difference between the rural and urban areas was done away with, and MNAs and MPAs were deprived of a role in local development. The scope of the provincial governments was limited to formulation of laws and regulations. This was hailed by the supporters of the system as the end of the municipalization of politics caused by the previous set-up. Among the positive features of the new system were enhanced representation of marginalized groups, like religious minorities, women, peasants and workers. That the bureaucracy was made answerable to the elected representatives, was considered another progressive feature. Among the negative points was that the new system lent itself to misuse by those controlling Islamabad. Former President Musharraf used it to extend the military rule while he secured his position by manipulating the referendum and general elections with the help of the District Nazims. There were also complaints that the end of the executive magistracy had created administrative chaos in the provinces. There is a need to thoroughly weigh the positive and negative points of the system before deciding its future. What is important is to seek the opinion of the provinces. Recommendations should preferably be made after debating the issue in the assemblies. What is needed is to make the local bodies more responsive, transparent and accountable. Whatever changes are brought about must ensure the sustainability, efficacy and usefulness of the set-up. Despite Local Bodies being a provincial subject, no changes in the system can be effected by the provinces as it is protected by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The system has enjoyed the support of a number of international donors like WB, ADB, UNDP and CIDA. There is a need under the circumstances to take all stakeholders on board.