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FEATURE STORY

Pakistan's Small Towns: Providing Civic Services at the Doorstep

May 12, 2014

Citizens' complaints are now recorded and tracked electronically, making officials more productive and accountable, improving service delivery.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In 2001, the Devolution of Power Program established Tehsil Municipal Administrations (TMAs) in Punjab, mandated with delivery of municipal services. However, they were not provided with the required resources to undertake their responsibilities of strategic planning or provision of municipal infrastructure and services.
  • The Government of Punjab and World Bank lent support to the devolution process through funds for institutional development and improved service delivery to TMAs willing to improve their performance.
  • The institutional development initiatives included participatory planning; computerized complaint tracking systems; developing TMA websites; computerized performance management and financial management systems; and on-the-job and classroom trainings for TMA staff. Rehabilitation of town roads also took place, which helped businesses situated along them and improved the towns' quality of life.

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.”

Each citizen gets a slip detailing his/her complaint.

Open Quotes

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. Close Quotes

Aftab Ahmed
Fruit seller, Renala Khurd

Major town roads have been rehabilitated under PMSIP, linking businesses and communities with each other.

Rehabilitating roads link communities

The Kutchery Road, a 600-meter stretch of road connects many small towns and villages around Renala Khurd. Despite being one of the key link roads of the tehsil, it was in terrible condition as late as 2012. The TMA has since rehabilitated it, making it useable. Liaquat Ali, owner of a computer Shop on the road says the rehabilitation, “not only improved our businesses, but has also improved our lives tremendously.  Everything seems within reach now.”

Residents and businessmen situated along the PTCL Link Road, also rehabilitated in 2012, had the same views. Ashraf Sajjad, a scrap shop owner said, “I have had this shop for 15-16 years now, but my business was not doing well until this road was reconstructed. The value of my property has increased immensely.  The road was not even fit for walking before.”

The Punjab Municipal Services Improvement Project has proved to be a revolutionary step for the TMAs, which were otherwise facing immense challenges in developing the small towns of the Punjab as urban centers with civic amenities. The kind of development that has taken place in Renala Khurd with the assistance of PMSIP is commendable, and engenders a sense of healthy competition between TMAs in the province for accessing performance-based grants from the government of Punjab, helping serve their citizens better.