The kind of development that has taken place in Renala Khurd under the Punjab Municipal Services Improvement Project is commendable, and engenders a sense of healthy competition between TMAs in the province for accessing performance-based grants from the Government of Punjab to serve their citizens better.
Renala Khurd, Punjab – A common feature in most Pakistani towns and villages is a lack of municipal services - basic facilities and weak administrative capacity to improve the situation. Inhabitants of small towns generally find it difficult to access local administration for resolving challenges of daily life. These issues however have been significantly addressed over the past few years in Renala Khurd, a small tehsil in Punjab’s Okara district, of nearly 350,000 inhabitants, according to the last census, in 1998.
In 2001, the Devolution of Power Program was implemented in Pakistan, resulting in the establishment of 144 Tehsil Municipal Administrations (TMAs) in Punjab mandated with delivering services. Renala Khurd’s TMA has had an important role to play in resolving infrastructure bottlenecks and service deficiencies, bringing about a sea change in day-to-day municipal management of services. These efforts have been assisted by the World Bank and government of Punjab Municipal Services Improvement Project (PMSIP), of which institution building of local governance is a cutting-edge aspect.
According to Azeem Qadeer Hussain, Deputy Manager, Institutional Development, of the Punjab Municipal Development Fund Company (PMDFC), “Implementation of the Devolution program commenced slowly, as most of the TMAs did not have the capacity or resources to undertake the responsibility of strategic planning and infrastructure provision. To fill the capacity gaps the World Bank supported the process underway in Punjab through capacity building and service delivery enhancement trainings to selected TMAs.”
The positive impact on citizens’ lives of these initiatives is noticeable. The computerized Complaint Tracking System (CTS) not only registers complaints, but at the click of a button, generates status reports, and sends updates and alerts regarding citizen complaints of municipal services. The TMA staff has also been trained to ensure effective use of data and use a Computerized Financial Management System (CFMS).
“There were enough fund allocations for operations or maintenance, but there was a need for a system which would not only record expenditure, but also show implementation progress,” recalls Afzal Hussain, the Tehsil Municipal Officer of Renala Khurd. Each complaint to the TMA is now recorded electronically and assigned a complaint number, which can be monitored by the local officials’ superiors.
“The [system] strengthened accountability. We use the online Performance Management System (PMS) which helps in tracking the status of all municipal services and brings each functionary of government’s vast organizational structure on one page. Now all the data, queries and projects’ progress is accessible electronically,” says Hussain.
The electronic systems have made officials more productive and better able to respond to people’s needs. “We used to spend the whole day in maintaining ledgers and do record keeping, and used to dread going through every page of manually kept data,” says Zeeshan Fareed, accountant of TMA Renala Khurd, who was trained on the CFMS. “That was not only time-consuming but also risky, as you didn’t know how to secure them and where to keep their backups in case of an emergency like a fire.”
Six months ago, Aftab Ahmed, a fruit seller in the town’s Sabzi Mandi (fruit & vegetable market) lodged a complaint to clear sewage in front of his shop. His complaint was resolved immediately and since then, he says he has not faced any problems, having approached the TMA to have his street cleaned as well. “The computerized complaint tracking system has resolved the issue of constant follow-ups after a complaint. Previously no headway was ever made unless we approached some influential person. This system is a revolution in our lives.”