December 30th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Stakeholders have called for raising the representation of women from the existing 14 percent to at least 33 percent in the new local government structure in Punjab.
The recommendations for greater women representation were made in a dialogue on Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities in the Punjab Local Government Ordinance 2021, organised by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) on Wednesday, December 29, at a local hotel in the city.
Representatives of local governments, members of the provincial assembly, and other stakeholders from civil society participated in the discussion.
Bushra Khaliq, Executive Director of Women in Struggle for Empowerment, pointed out that Pakistan was bound to increase gender empowerment in the local government structure being a signatory to various treaties and conventions.
However, women’s representation in the two tiers of local government under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance 2021 limited women’s representation in the metropolitan, district, neighbourhood and village councils to 14 percent. She recommended that the women’s representation should be raised to 33 percent, adding that it should be increased to 50 percent to 50 percent in the coming 10 years. She said that past experience had shown that open seats did not lead to greater women representation in the local government tiers.
Khaliq recommended that the special seats of youth, peasants, minorities, traders, and persons with disabilities should also be allocated to women to improve gender empowerment in the local government structure.
Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, Executive Director, CPDI, highlighted certain weaknesses in the Punjab Local Government Ordinance 2021 that weakened the powers of local government representatives. Under the ordinance, the local government head could seek reports from provincial government agencies including police but he/she enjoyed no powers to summon them or recommend their transfers on poor performance. “The effective say and oversight of local government heads have been diluted under the new structure,” he said.
In his opinion, the provincial government still had discretionary powers regarding the devolution of agencies providing municipal services like park and horticulture authorities, land development authorities, water and sanitation agencies, and waste management companies to local governments. “The ordinance uses the word ‘may’ instead of shall in Section 23 titled Functions and powers In relation to the authorities, agencies, and companies in the Metropolitan Corporations,” Mukhtar Ahmed Ali said, adding that the provincial government could devolve these agencies through a notification which also empowered it to revert control of these agencies to the provincial government through a notification alone.
He also pointed that it was very unlikely that the local government elections could take place with the use of electronic voting machines as mentioned in the ordinance.
“There is a fear that local elections might not take place as the ordinance had been extended to six months,” he said. “It will be very difficult for the Election Commission to procure EVMs and train polling staff within six months,” he added.
Mukhtar Ahmed Ali also pointed out that the majority of the members of the Local Government Finance Commission were government officials with little representation of local government heads.
Muazzam Ali Janjua, a local government expert, called for a minimum consensus on a uniform structure of local governments in the country, pointing out that currently, all provinces had different types of local structures. He emphasized that the devolution of functions to local governments should be backed with resources. He appreciated that the opposition leader has been given a statutory role in metropolitan and district councils but said no provision has been given for opposition members in the local government committees in these councils.
Farid Paracha, leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, said political parties should try to give a separate manifesto for local governments in order to strengthen these grass-root institutions.
Mujibur Rehman Shami, senior journalist, said a federal law should be enacted to protect the tenure of local governments and cut their dependence on the provincial governments.
Abdul Hamid, Director Elections, Punjab, said that the enlistment of electoral groups for election of municipal corporations and district mayors would likely begin by end of February. He said candidates wishing to run independently for mayor would have to field an electoral group of joint candidates for the deputy mayors, vice-chairpersons, and reserved seats. He said parties and electoral groups have the provision of listing covering candidates for the elections.
According to the election commission official, the spending limit for election expenses would apply to the electoral group and not to each candidate. He said the limit on election expenses would be clarified further in the Punjab Local Government Ordinance rules which were yet to be framed by the provincial government.
Mubeen Qazi briefed participants on salient features of the new local government structure in Punjab. He said the local government has two tiers based on municipal corporations/district councils and neigbourhood/village councils in urban and rural areas of the districts.
Local government representatives also objected to the condition of intermediate education for candidates of local government heads, calling it discriminatory in view of the Supreme Court judgment that had removed the graduation bar on candidates for parliamentarians and provincial legislators. They also demanded that a reasonable honorarium should be set for councillors and heads of local governments in the new structure.