GILGIT, Oct 23: President General Pervez Musharraf unveiled on Tuesday a political, administrative and development reforms package for the Northern Areas.

Addressing notables of the area after inaugurating the 18 Megawatt Naltar hydel-power project, the president also announced that the Northern Areas council had been given the status of a legislative assembly with powers to debate and pass its budget. The existing council has 36 seats, 24 elected and 12 reserved (six for women and six for technocrats) and it has the power to legislate on 49 subjects.

Gen Musharraf said that the deputy chief executive would henceforth be called the chief executive with full administrative and financial authority and the existing chief executive (a federal minister) would be the chairman of the Northern Areas government.

The president said that the chief executive would be elected by the new assembly.

He said that all administrative and financial powers of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas would be transferred to the Northern Areas government. The assembly will be able to take up no-confidence motions against the chief executive, speaker and deputy speaker. Gen Musharraf also announced that there would be an accountant general’s office for Northern Areas.

He said a seventh district consisting of Hunza and Nagir subdivisions would be carved out of the Gilgit district and two subdivisions of Dagone and Raundo will be set up in the Baltistan region.

The president also announced that cases registered by the National Accountability Bureau against officials of the Northern Areas administration would be transferred from Islamabad to Gilgit.

He announced remission of agricultural loans of up to Rs50,000 which would benefit about 12,000 people. Besides, mark-up on small and medium enterprise loans would also be waived, he said.

The president announced the setting up of a commission under the deputy chairman of Planning Commission to resolve boundary disputes between the Northern Areas and the North-West Frontier Province.

He said the regional development budget was being increased from Rs6.5 billion to Rs7.6 billion. However, the president did not say anything about the judicial set-up in the region which is functioning as a department attached to the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas.

The region has so far been governed by the government of Pakistan through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas under the Northern Areas Legal Framework Order, 1994.

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