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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Jan 28, 2014

Local governance: Speakers discourage throwing away baby with bathwater

The institution of union council
nazim might prove to be effective in dealing with community problems if the
local government system is given some time.

But domestic policies about
governance need to take into account the social norms and kinship politics that
often override official and formal administrative rules and regulations in the

These were some suggestions that
came up during a presentation by Dr Shehryar Khan Toru, a at Sustainable
Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Monday at the SDPI office.

Toru was presenting the findings of
his ethnographic case study on the domestic water supply in an urban union
council in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Through the research, Toru tried to
examine the way social norms affect institutional power of the water supply,
the role of nazim in management of the supply and the limitations of the
governance model.

Toru said the case study was
conducted over a nine-month period in 2010-11 in Union Council Nawanshehr of
Abbottabad district.

The researcher spent time observing
the working of the town committee, which is responsible for the water supply
management in Nawanshehr and is being run as a bureaucratic organisaiton under
the Tehsil Municipal Administration after the 2002 decentralisation reforms.

He said he found that informal
social norms, kinship ties and political affiliations often pressurized
officials to ignore or break the formal rules of business that were otherwise
available to manage the water supply.

The existing distribution system
for drinking water was designed by a former nazim to benefit his voters and get
some personal benefits, the research showed. The nazim at the time the study
was conducted tried to fix the problem through a new project but that only
ended up providing water to only two out of four affected neighbourhoods, both
of which had residents that were personally or politically related to him.

The remaining affected residents
kept complaining to the town committee but the "system for complaints was
heavily politicised," Toru said, and the administrative practice was linked
with political and personal relationships.

Toru said a Nazim’s involvement in
administration demonstrates that local government is dominated by differences
in power relations. However, the actions of nazims indicate that they seem to
be accountable to their voters in a way that stands parallel to the official,
formal channel of accountability. It makes the accountability issue
problematic, Toru said, but also offers some hope.

"This system can work because a
nazim feels accountable to the community," Toru said. "If the system is allowed
to continue long enough, there is a chance you will have elected people who
will prefer the interests of public at large instead of providing benefits to
their voters only."

Analyst Mukhtar Ahmed said new
norms can be set in society by attempting to change the political culture and
by increasing accountability. He said changes in official rules, such as making
taxation local, could also help overcome some problems.