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MUZAFFARABAD: A special parliamentary committee in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) has at last come up with the recommendations for amendments to the region’s Interim Constitution Act 1974.

The proposed amendments clip the wings of the AJK Council, an institution created under the Interim Constitution Act 1974 to serve as a bridge between Muzaffarabad and Islamabad. It has long been seen in AJK as parallel government with absolute financial, executive and legislative powers.

“After the 18th, 19th and 20th constitutional amendments in Pakistan, there had been calls for amendments to the AJK Interim Constitution Act, 1974 and the same had also become indispensable in order to harmonise AJK Constitution with the Constitution of Pakistan,” said Mohammad Matloob Inqilabi, AJK Minister for Higher Education and head of the special reforms committee, at a press conference here on Wednesday.

The committee, he said, was constituted in early 2012, with eight of its members drawn from different parliamentary groups in the AJK Legislative Assembly and one from the AJK Council.

According to Mr Inqilabi, the committee held a series of meetings with political parties, bar associations, journalists and other civil society activists to formulate recommendations enjoying broader consensus.

Sharing the key recommendations, he said the committee had proposed that except for the responsibilities of the Pakistan government under the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolutions, the remaining powers, currently exercised by the AJK Council, should be given to the AJK government.

Furthermore, the 52-item Council Legislative List, mentioned in Schedule-III of the Interim Constitution Act, 1974, should be amended in the spirit of and parity with the recent constitutional reforms in Pakistan in which powers have been devolved to the provinces, he added.

Mr Inqilabi pointed out that at the moment there were separate consolidated funds for the AJK government and the AJK Council, and the committee had agreed that both funds should be merged and renamed as AJK Consolidated Funds.

Regarding the appointment of judges in the AJK Supreme Court, High Court and Shariat Court, the committee had proposed that the procedure provided in the Constitution of Pakistan, envisaging judicial commission and parliamentary committee, should also be followed in AJK.

Currently, the judges in the AJK superior judiciary are appointed by the AJK President on the advice of the AJK Council after consultations with the chief justice(s).

The judicial commission should nominate a panel, consisting of three candidates for a vacancy of judge, and the parliamentary committee should forward a person with the consent of simple majority of its members to the prime minister who should forward the same to the president, Mr Inqilabi said.

In case of rejection or an objection on the panel received from the judicial commission, the parliamentary committee should decide the matter with a three-fourth majority and in such a case a judicial commission should review the panel, he added.

The parliamentary committee for the purpose of confirmation of judges should be constituted on the pattern provided in the constitution of Pakistan. It should consist of 4 MLAs and 2 AJK Council members, half of whom should be from the treasury benches and the rest from the opposition, to be nominated by the parliamentary leaders of the parties having representation in the Assembly.

Similarly, the procedure provided for the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the constitution of Pakistan should be followed in AJK, with same qualifications for the CEC and EC members.

Appointment of CEC and members should be made by the parliamentary committee, with same composition as suggested for the committee for appointments in judiciary. The nomination of EC members should be made in consultation with the leaders of the house and opposition.

He said the reforms committee had also proposed granting of constitutional protection to the establishment of Shariat Court in AJK.

The committee had agreed that the appointment of the ad-hoc judges to the Supreme Court should be made for a period of six months, he said.

Mr Inqilabi said the committee had suggested that the Assembly should meet for not less than 60 days in each year. The existing constitution does not specify the number of days.

Regarding the strength of the cabinet, the committee had proposed that it should be 25 per cent of the total strength of the Assembly.

Similarly, the total number of advisers to the prime minister and parliamentary secretaries should not exceed two and five, respectively.

The committee has further proposed that the powers to make rules (of business) should be given to the prime minister, instead of the president.

It had also proposed abolition of the institutions of Ombudsman and Accountability Bureau.

Mr Inqilabi said the recommendations had been approved by the AJK Legislative Assembly on Tuesday evening and forwarded to the law, justice and parliamentary affairs department to be tabled in the house as a bill.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2015

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