Parliamentarians and experts called for the introduction of a democratically representative local government (LG) system to ensure meaningful participation of the citizens.
A discussion on this topic took place on Thursday at the national conference on ‘Local Governments Legislation and Citizens Concerns’. The conference sought to raise public concerns about the gaps in draft local body bills presented in provincial assemblies, and to make them more democratic, representative and accountable.
The event was organized by leading civil society organizations working under the AAWAZ Voice and Accountability programme. The programme aimed to ensure inclusive democratic processes and to improve the state’s accountability to its citizens.
AAWAZ consortium partners included the Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI),the Aurat Foundation (AF), the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-Pk) and the Sungi Development Foundation.
At the occasion Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s National Assembly Member (PML-N MNA) and National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB)’s former chairman Daniyal Aziz said that the separation of the judiciary from the executive at a local level was a constitutional requirement for the rule of law, adding that local governance was the lynchpin of a local democratic government versus a colonial system.
Talking of bureaucratic involvement in the current local bodies’ legislation, he said that executive officers must not think they would regain judicial authority by destroying the sacrifices of the lawyer’s movement. “Article 140 A of constitution ensures that powers once devolved cannot be reversed,” he added.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman’s Advisor and Former State Interior Minister Shahzad Waseem briefed the meeting on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)’s draft local government bill.
Waseem revealed that in the KP bill the village councils, which he considered the basic building block of system, had been politically, administratively and financially empowered.
He also shared a new aspect of the ‘Nano Blocks’ which would be established in urban centres. Waseem said that women, minorities and peasants would be given increased representation via the bill.
He also lamented the dysfunctional local bodies system in the capital territory which was being administered by the CDA and the ICT. He said that it was flawed and further divided the rural and urban areas, with urban Islamabad completely unrepresented at local level.
Furthermore, he said that the village council would be made financially autonomous through the allocation of development funds and by attracting investments from overseas Pakistanis by adopting a village scheme.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)’s Deputy Convener and Parliamentary Leader Farooq Sattar said that in current times, the local government not only provided municipal or civic services but was also the engine for economic growth.
He also said that local governments, with the help of the police and the neighborhoods, could play an effective role in countering terrorism.
National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz presented the official position of the NCSW, which she added, was following its mandate and was based on constitutional provisions and the experience of women’s representation in local government’s especially from 2001-2009.
Two Constitutional provisions namely Article 32 and Article 140-A were particularly important she added, saying that Article 32 stated that “The State shall encourage local government institutions composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned and in such institutions special representation will be given to peasants, workers, and women”.
She said that article 140-A prescribed that “Each province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.” She also said the local government must be party based.
AAWAZ Steering Committee Chair and SPO Executive Director Naseer Memon welcomed the participants and gave a detailed summary of the conference’s objectives.
Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of local governance in light of people’s access to justice, resources and their right to information. He also said that democracy was incomplete without a tier of local governance. He demanded a constitutional guarantee for the uninterrupted continuance of the local governance system.
Memon also called for the clear demarcation of roles, functions and powers, not only between elected representatives and the bureaucracy but also between the provinces and different tiers of local governments.
Aurat Foundation Chief Operating Officer Naeem Mirza presented a critique on the Punjab Local Government Act. He said that a negative aspect of the act was its sharp rural-urban divide in the province.
There should be no rural-urban divide in the application of local governments and the union council with the village council/peri urban settlement, he said.
He also said that an autonomous local government commission under the chairpersonship of the Chief Minister or his representatives needed to be established to look after local governmental affairs.
AAWAZ Programme’s Naghma Imdad described the focus of the programme and its objectives of advocacy and research. She also said that the programme was currently being run in 45 districts of Punjab and KP.
Human Rights Activist Tahira Abdullah said the local government was the first and not the third tier of the government.
Tahira added that the local government would help in getting rid of the feudal and tribal systems. She also said that the local government must work to eliminate illegal jirgas and punchayats.
She said that women must be elected through direct elections and any distric, tehsil or union council elections where political parties agreed to ban women from contesting elections or from the voting process must be declared null and void.
Aurat Foundation’s Feroza Zahra presented a citizen’s charter of demand suggesting a minimum of 33 percent representation for women, 10 percent for peasants and 5 percent for minorities at all tiers of local government. She demanded an end to rural-urban divide and that the union council should be comprised of at least 20 members to ensure meaningful participation of all citizens, and should have constitutional protection, fiscal and administrative autonomy.
SDPI Executive Director Abid Qaiyum Suleri presented the concluding remarks while Sisters Trust Executive Director Rehana Hashmi gave a brief account of the struggle of women councilors in the precious local government system.