ISLAMABAD - Calling local governance a missing tier of democracy in Pakistan, parliamentarians and experts of a conference on "Local Governments Legislation and Citizens Concerns" have called for introducing local government system that is 'democratically representative' and ensure meaningful participation of citizens.

National NGOs on Thursday organized a national conference on "Local Governments Legislation and Citizens Concerns" under AWAZ Voice and Accountability Programme ostensibly to ensure democratic processes and improving the state's accountability to citizens through third tier of the governance i.e. local government. The conference seeks to raise public concerns about the gaps in draft local bodies bills presented in provincial assemblies and to make them more democratic, representative and accountable. Parliamentarians, civil society activists, political workers and also people from different walks of life participated in the conference.

Speaking at the occasion, Daniyal Aziz, MNA PML-N, and former Chairman, National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB), said that separation of judiciary from executive at local level is a constitutional requirement for rule of law adding that local governance is the lynchpin of democratic local government verses colonial system.

Talking of bureaucratic involvement in the current local bodies legislation, he expressed that executive officers must not think they will regain judicial authority by destroying the sacrifices of the lawyer's movement. "Article 140 A of constitution ensures that powers once devolved cannot be reversed, " he went on to add.

Dr. Farooq Sattar, Deputy Convener and Parliamentary Leader, MQM said that in modern times of today, local government is not only for municipal or civic services but to become the engine of economic growth. He also said that the local government could play an effective role in countering terrorism with the help of police and neighborhood.

Dr. Shahzad Waseem, Advisor to Chairman PTI and former State Minister for Interior, briefed about the draft local government bill prepared by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He informed that KP bill has radical transformation as the power routes from bottom to top in new local bodies bill. He added that village councils are the basic building block of system that are empowered politically, administratively and financially.  He also shared a new dimension of 'Nano Blocks', which would be established in urban centres.

Dr Waseem said that women, minorities and peasants are given increased representation in the bill. He also lamented the dysfunctional local bodies system in capital territory, which is administrated by CDA and ICT marred by further divide between rural and urban where urban Islamabad goes completely un-presented at local level.

While highlighting the importance of local governance in the light of people's access to justice, resources and their right to information Naseer Memon, Executive Director SPO said democracy is incomplete without tier of local governance. He demanded that there must be constitutional guarantee for local governance system to continue without any break, which unfortunately was the case in last few years. He also called upon clear demarcation of roles, function and powers not only between elected representatives and bureaucracy but also between provinces and different tiers of local governments.

Naeem Mirza, Chief Operating Officer, Aurat Foundation, presented the critique on the Punjab Local Government Act.  He said that one bad thing about the Act is that it considers the province in a sharp rural-urban divide.  There should be no rural-urban divide in the application of local governments and union council with village council/peri urban settlement.

Tahira Abdullah, Human Rights Activists, said local government is not the third tier of the government but the first tier of the government.  She said that local government would help to get rid of feudal and tribal system.  She also said that local government must work to eliminate illegal jirgas and punchayats. 

Rehana Hashmi, Executive Director Sisters Trust, gave a brief account of the struggle of women councilors in the precious local government system.  She also highlighted the pressure and problems faced by women councilors.

Chairing the proceedings, Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson, National Commission on Status of Women presented the official position of the NCSW which is in keeping with its mandate and is based on Constitutional provisions and the experience of women's representation in local government especially from 2001-2009.

Earlier, Feroza Zahra from Aurat Foundation presented a citizens charter of demand suggesting minimum 33 percent representation for women, 10 percent for peasants and 5 percent for minorities at all tiers of local government, filled through party based and constituency based direct election in joint electorate. She demanded that union council to be comprised of at least 20 members to ensure meaningful participation of citizens, along with constitutional protection, fiscal and administrative autonomy and an end to rural-urban divide.