The government is almost the sole source of services in the rural sector of developing countries. Being closest to the people and central to the participatory development, local government in these countries has been assigned a strong role to play in rural development. This study is basically designed to evaluate the 'district government system' in terms of participation, representation and responsiveness. Using the illustrative experience of Pakistan, this research focuses on the workings of district government in rural NWFP, at a detailed level and seeks to appraise the role and participation of councils in developing and improving the Pakistani villages in three respects. Firstly, the research has attempted to analyze the local government system in Pakistan being reformed by the successive governments in order to assess people participation. Secondly, the study assesses the local councils' participation in formulating and implementing the centrally/provincially financed rural development programmes. Thirdly, it places the survey and case study analysis in context through a detailed assessment of activities and initiatives, which have been developed by councils for participatory development, and investigates the peoples' involvement in development.
Following a case study of district government in Northwestern Pakistan, the study applied a cumulative methodology involving the collection of data from a sample of 400 villagers and 120 councilors, representing 16 villages in 8 union councils of 2 districts of northwestern Pakistan. It also presents case studies of 2 'district councils' and evaluates the outcome and limitations of local government.
A chronological analysis of the history of the local government in Pakistan reveals that democratic decentralized institutions at village level, favoring participation in development could not be established despite frequent reforms by the military rulers. Similarly, the local government participation in development programs of the federal and provincial government is also minimal. Mechanisms to encourage more active involvement and participation of the local governments are severely restricted. However, both villagers and councilors are nevertheless more inclined to favor people involvement in development activities which is encouraging for improved participation in future.
In evaluating the impact of decentralized government on development and participation, this research concludes that hitherto decentralization in Pakistan has not been altogether effective. Despite this, villagers have a strong confidence in district government as they perceived it a more effective means for participatory development. Due to a variety of internal limitations and externally imposed obstacles, the development initiatives of local government can make only limited progress. Usually, their effectiveness varies directly with the financial and administrative capabilities of local officials and with the degree of political support received from the central and provincial governments. The thesis concludes by underlining the potential barriers - poor financial base, a dependence on provincial/central governments for resources, lack of motivation, democratic deficit, lack of peoples’ participation and political interference - which have abated the development capacity of local government. There is a need to overcome these problems before it can act as a vehicle for rural development.
On responsiveness dimension local institutions are perceived at the highest position followed by MPAs and MNAs, It indicates the relevance of local government system to the local problems. It seems that despite the limited engagement of local government system in development endeavors, its weak institutional standing, lack of continuity, frequent interruptions and excessive dependence on headquarters for financial support and conceptual guidance, the potentials of local councils system have not been totally eroded. Ranking local council 1st on rank order despite its frequent molestation and manipulation by the successive governments is pointer to the potential role, this institution can play in the context of rural development.
On representation dimension, the councillors' socio-economic profiles show that district and tehsil/town councilors (Union Nazims and Union Naib Nazims) constitute a group that are drawn from the higher socio-economic strata of rural society, that live with people in village and that have some experience of councillorship. So it is clear that councils are largely the domains of traditional rural elites (landlords). However, the union councils, on the other hand, are comparatively consists of councilors majority of whom belong to landless and small land holing group, majority are young, energetic but comparatively less educated and less experienced. So taking collectively and generally, the data shows the majority of councilors belong to a group who are either landless or small landholders and are either of low income or medium income groups. It appears that local reforms have dislodged large landowners and social elites from control over the local politics and so the data does not validate the hypothesis of this research that local government units are elite dominant institutions.
What it suggests paradoxically, is that in order for local government to be an effective instrument of change, it must be integrated with other economic and fiscal decentralization and backed up by consistent political will (state commitment) and active society (people participation). The institutional framework must have an endogenous ability to serve greatly heterogeneous village demands. So there are reasons to believe, however, that given the opportunity to continue democratic local institutions over a long period, decentralization may gradually bring about better results.