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The Lahore Times

Published Date: Aug 2, 2013

‘Local governance: a missing tier of democracy in Pakistan’

Calling local governance a missing tier of democracy in
Pakistan, Parliamentarians and experts have called for introducing local
government system that is ‘democratically representative’ and ensure
meaningful participation of citizen.

They were discussing at a national conference on "Local Governments
Legislation and Citizens Concerns" here on Thursday. The conference
seeks to raise public concerns about the gaps in draft local bodies
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 AAWAZ Voice and Accountability Programme that seeks to
ensure inclusive democratic processes and improves the state’s
accountability to citizens.  AAWAZ consortium partners include 
Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), Sustainable Development
Policy Institute (SDPI), Aurat Foundation (AF), South Asia
Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-Pk) and Sungi Development Foundation.

Speaking at the occasion, Daniyal Aziz, MNA PMLN, and Former
Chairman, National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) said that separation of
judiciary from executive at local level is a constitutional requirement
for rule of law adding that local governance is the lynchpin of
democratic local government verses colonial system. Talking of
bureaucratic involvement in current local bodies legislation, he
expressed that executive officers must not think they will 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 went on to add.

Dr. Shahzad Waseem, Advisor to Chairman PTI and Former State Minister
for Interior briefed about draft local government bill prepared by
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He informed that KP bill has radical transformation
as the power routes from bottom to top in new local bodies bill. He
added that village councils are the basic building block of system that
are empowered politically, administratively and financially.  He also
shared a new dimension of ‘Nano Blocks’ which would be established in
urban centres. Dr Waseem said that women, minorities and peasants are
given increased representation in the bill. He also lamented the
dysfunctional local bodies system in capital territory which is
administrated by CDA and ICT marred by further divide between rural and
urban where urban Islamabad goes completely un-presented at local level.
He informed that village council would be made financially autonomous
through allocation of development funds and attracting investments from
overseas Pakistanis by adopt a village scheme.

Dr. Farooq Sattar, Deputy Convener and Parliamentary Leader, MQM said
that in modern times of today, local government is not only for
municipal or civic services but to become the engine of economic
growth.  He also said that the local government can play an effective
role in countering terrorism with the help of police and neighbourhood.

Chairing the proceedings, Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson, National
Commission on Status of Women (NCSW) presented the official position of
the NCSW which is in keeping with its mandate and is based on
Constitutional provisions and the experience of women’s representation
in local government especially from 2001-2009.  Two Constitutional
provisions, Article 32 and Article 140 A are important.  Article 32
states 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.  Article 140-A prescribes 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.

Earlier, Naseer Memon, Chair AAWAZ Steering Committee, and Executive
Director SPO, welcomed the participants and gave in detail the
objectives of the conference.  He highlighted the importance of local
governance in the light of people’s access to justice, resources and
their right to information.  He also said that democracy is incomplete
without tier of local governance. He demanded that there must be
constitutional guarantee for local governance system to continue without
any break, which unfortunately was the case in last few years. He also
called upon clear demarcation of roles, function and powers not only
between elected representatives and bureaucracy but also between
provinces and different tiers of local governments.

Mr Naeem Mirza, Chief Operating Officer, Aurat Foundation, presented
the critique on the Punjab Local Government Act. He said that one bad
thing about the Act is that it considers the province in a sharp
rural-urban divide. There should be no rural-urban divide in the
application of local governments and union council with village
council/peri urban settlement. He also said that an autonomous Local
Government Commission needs to be established under the chairpersonship
of the Chief Minister or his/her representative/minister to look after
local government affairs.

Ms Naghma Imdad, from AAWAZ Programme described the focus of the
AAWAZ programme and its objectives of advocacy and research.  She also
said that currently the programme is being run in two provinces i.e.
Punjab and NWFP, and in total in 45 districts of both the province.  He
also said that there should be a minimum of 33% proportion of
representation for women,10% for peasants/ labour and 5% for non-Muslims
(with gender balance) through reservation of seats in all three tiers
of local governments to be filled through party-based and
constituency-based direct elections in a joint electorate system.

Tahira Abdullah, Human Rights Activists, said local government is not
the third tier of the government but the first tier of the government. 
She said that local government would help to get rid of feudal and
tribal system.  She also said that local government must work to
eliminate illegal jirgas and punchayats.  She said that women must be
elected through direct elections modality, whether for reserved or
general seats. Any district, tehsil, union council where political
parties agree to ban and prevent women from contesting electing or
voting must declare election null and void. She also said that all
development funds to parliamentarians shall be ceased right now, as the
development activities of health, construction of roads, setting of
schools are the responsibility of the local government.  She also said
that the police department shall be brought under control of only the
local government.

Earlier, Feroza Zahra from Aurat Foundation presented a citizens
charter of demand suggesting minimum 33 percent representation for
women, 10 percent for peasants and 5 percent for minorities at all tiers
of local government, filled through party based and constituency based
direct election in joint electorate. She demanded that union council to
be comprised of at least 20 members to ensure meaningful participation
of citizens, along with constitutional protection, fiscal and
administrative autonomy and an end to rural-urban divide.

Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI presented concluding
remarks and vote of thanks. Ms Rehana Hashmi, Executive Director Sisters
Trust, gave a brief account of the struggle of women councilors in the
precious local government system.  She also highlighted the pressure and
problems faced by women councilors. Sajid Mansoor Qaisrani, Executive
Director SUNGI Development Foundation, also gave historic perspective of
the struggle for local government’s pro-people role.