Representatives of civil society organizations, presented a ‘Citizen’s Charter of Demand’ asking governments to legislate and hold local bodies elections in accordance with the constitution of Pakistan.
The Charter of Demand was presented at a press conference 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.
Press conference was jointly conducted by NaeemMirza of Aurat Foundation (AF); NaseerMemon of Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO); SajidMansoorQaisrani of Sungi Development Foundation, Feroza Zahra and Sadia Sharif from Sustainable Development Policy institute (SDPI) .
Speakers identified serious gaps in draft laws and urged policy makers to revisit, revise and improve the draft bills in larger interests of people of Pakistan. They called upon provincial governments to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities and ensure enhanced representation of excluded groups in political process.
They said that proposed bills tabled in provincial assemblies have restricted citizen’s participation and particularly the draft bill of Punjab is not acceptable in current form. He was of the view that basic principle of representation has been violated by fixing limited number of seats and indirect selection on reserved seats particularly for women and minorities.
The full text of “Charter of Demand for Local Government Plan 2013”;
It was recommend that:
1. Local Governments should be considered ‘third tier’ of governance with a constitutional guarantee and safeguards against any unlawful abrogation or dissolution or suspension or tempering in their affairs in a manner not prescribed in the law. All such interferences shall be considered violation of Constitution and must be dealt with legal penalties for authorities/persons responsible for any such acts.
2. There should be no rural-urban divide in the application of local governments and union council with village council/peri urban settlement below it should be considered the primary tier while tehsil and district council should be upper tiers of local governments.
3. The strength of the union council should be not less than 18 members in addition to seats of mayor/deputy mayor to ensure citizens’ meaningful participation and inclusion of all excluded groups in the local governments for effective service delivery, gender equality, dispute resolution and social harmony. All these seats shall be elected through direct election.
4. 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. The same principle must be ensured for all sub-committees, boards, commissions at all tiers.
5. Local government should be given fiscal autonomy to run their affairs with the right to collection of taxes, in accordance with provincial context. A balance of authority should be created whereby elected representatives’ authority is not encroached upon by bureaucracy and similarly elected representatives should be answerable to the elected house and should not interfere in executive functions. Elected councils shall take on precedence over government officials who shall be accountable and sub-ordinate to them.
6. MusalihatiAnjumans, neighborhood councils, citizens’ community boards and other sub-structures at UC, tehsil and district level must be set-up through principles of parity, equality and gender-based participation.
7. 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. It would be appropriate to have balanced representation from both treasury and opposition from the provincial assembly, as well as, adequate representation of women and non-Muslims to make it more inclusive. This high powered body should have the final authority to take appropriate decisions regarding any matters pertaining to local governments.
8. Allocation of development funds to the elected Councils and elected representatives should be made through transparent, fair, rights-based and needs-based process. Principles of provincial finance and budgeting should categorically mention indicators like poverty, gender gap, geographic backwardness and development gap. The existing structure of Provincial Finance Commission may be reviewed and revised on the aforementioned indicators. A minimum of 30% of the district government budget should be allocated on women-specific development plans and schemes.
9. New local government legislation in all provinces should empower and charge the local governments to develop and execute disaster risk reduction and disaster management plans under the technical guidance and supervision of Provincial Disaster Management Authority. District Disaster Management Authority or a department should be introduced at district level. The department may have institutional link with PDMA as well as well-defined coordination mechanism with elected local government and civil society organizations.
10. The ‘Right to Information’ is a key to empower citizens and ensure transparency and good governance at the local level and it is also enshrined in our Constitution. Citizens should be given access to information on development planning, budgeting, expenditure, engendering, meeting minutes and other matters of governance at the district level and at the lower tiers. An easily accessible institutional mechanism such as the Provincial Commission on Information should make it simple and convenient for citizens to get updated information on any aspect of the performance of the provincial and local government tiers.
11. The new Local Government legislation in all provinces should make a provision for grievance redressal /complaint management mechanism enabling citizens to hold their elected councils accountable to them and to check discriminatory practices such as sidelining, threatening or other excesses against women or non-Muslim members and other council members who do not belong to the local power structures. District Ombudsperson can be an option with appropriate powers to make local government departments accountable and efficient.
12. Local governments should be subject to accountability and transparency under the constitutional and legal framework of the province. District Public Accounts Committee should also be introduced to create a check and balance with a council member of the opposition of repute as its head. Alternative dispute resolution mechanism should be inserted in the new legislation for facilitating access to justice and social harmony.