Experts seek constitutional amendment to protect local governments

Published November 24, 2022
Senior lawyer Hamid Khan speaks at the conference in Islamabad on Wednesday. Fauzia Viqar, Dr Umair Javed, Dr Aziz Ahmed and Zafarullah Khan are also present. ­— White Star
Senior lawyer Hamid Khan speaks at the conference in Islamabad on Wednesday. Fauzia Viqar, Dr Umair Javed, Dr Aziz Ahmed and Zafarullah Khan are also present. ­— White Star

ISLAMABAD: A national conference held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in partnership with the Friedrich Naumman Foundation for Freedom (FNF) has called for a constitutional amendment to protect the form and tenure of local governments and ensure that fiscal decentralisation enabled local bodies to carry out their functions effectively.

In the first session, Dr Umair Javed, assistant professor of politics and sociology at Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums), said Article 140-A was an inadequate safeguard for local governments, adding that the provincial governments’ municipal and legislative responsibilities should be delinked.

Lawyer Hamid Khan said members of provincial assemblies (MPAs) and members of the National Assembly (MNAs) had become “unnecessary rivals” to local governments and recommended that development funds be given only to local bodies.

Lawyer Hamid Khan suggests giving funds only to local bodies

Fauzia Viqar, former chairperson of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, emphasised that women’s participation in local governments should not be tokenised. Dr Aziz Ahmad, professor of economics, pointed to the “asymmetry” between political and fiscal decentralisation, saying that the latter would help reduce gender and income disparities.

Speaking in the second session, Zafarullah Khan, chief executive of Ideas for Vision 2047, said local governments should be able to make their own rules of business.

Qazi Khizar, vice-chair of HRCP’s Sindh chapter said that marginalised groups such as the transgender community and religious minorities should not be barred from direct election to local governments, even though the law provided for them reserved seats.

PPP’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly member Ahmad Kundi suggested introduction of constitutional courts as a way to safeguard local governments. Supreme Court advocate Mubeen Uddin Qazi underscored the need for a constitutional structure to protect their continuity, while Dr Nasrullah Khan, chief executive of the Centre for Peace and Development said that a mechanism to oversee local governments’ financial accountability and capacity building of local representatives was necessary.

Speaking at the third session, Attaullah Tarar, special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) recommended creation of legislation to ensure that all local government laws required a two-thirds majority in the provincial government so that local bodies were not easily suspended.

Awami National Party (ANP) KP Assembly member Samar Haroon Bilour said that local elections should be held on a party basis so that constituents were aware of the broader political values of the representatives they were voting for.

Sibtal Haider Bukhari, in-charge of the PPP central secretariat, said accurate voter lists were essential. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Sindh Assembly member Ali Khurshidi agreed with this, adding that the census should be rectified so that voter lists and delimitations were more accurate. Fatima Haider, a PTI party election committee member, said that constitutional cover was needed to prevent provincial assemblies from encroaching on local governments’ functions.

Earlier, while introducing the conference, Birgit Lamm, head of the Pakistan office at FNF, said that local governments were “schools of democracy”. HRCP’s Secretary General Harris Khalique said that a strong democracy warranted effective, well-resourced local governments.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2022

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