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Power to the People

G-B to form city metropolitans under new local govt law GILGIT:
The Gilgit-Baltistan Local Government Bill 2014 has been approved, with lawmakers and experts agreeing to party-based local government (LG) elections in the region. In a sense this puts the region ahead of the provinces, which have yet to hold local government elections despite Supreme Court orders.

The draft bill was discussed, vetted and approved by a select committee of the assembly headed by the law minister, Ali Madad Sher, on Tuesday.

“From now on, LG elections will be held in G-B on a party basis and under a single ward electoral system,” said Altaf Hussain, director of programmes for the G-B policy institute that prepared the law after series of consultations with stakeholders across the region.

According to the law, two city metropolitan corporations will be created in Gilgit and Skardu districts, headed by a mayor and a deputy mayor. Similarly, a Jirga Anjuman will be formed at the union and district council levels for out-of-court settlement of disputes. Under the LG service structure, the employees of local government will be considered public servants and will be entitled to honoraria, pensions and a provident fund among other facilities.

In addition, an LG commission will be formed to work on the relationship between the G-B government and the local government. It will monitor local government performance and settle disputes emerging from within local government institutions. A local council board will be formed to oversee the appointments and other service-related matters of local government employees.

Urban and rural areas will be notified, in which local governance structures will be formed of elected representatives through adult franchise and indirectly elected members on reserved seats for women and religious minorities.

“The bill will now be tabled in the next assembly session by the law minister for endorsement and hopefully will get through unopposed,” the policy institute’s Altaf Hussain told The Express Tribune on Wednesday.

The G-B policy institute, which helped draft the law, is a non-government organisation working with the financial assistance of the UNDP. It provided technical assistance to the committee that was developing the LG law.

The initiative has been supported by the UNDP, which has been playing an advisory role in discussing ways to make grassroot representation more effective. Following the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010, which devolved powers down to the provinces, this initiative comes as a development in the ongoing discourse and efforts on policy initiatives at the local administrative level.

In helping G-B carve out a new way forward, the UNDP identified a few areas where it could help, such as drafting LG law and organising multi-stakeholder consultations to get feedback on them, as well as doing reviews of other provincial laws.

Ayub Shah, a Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker from Ghizer, described the bill as a milestone that would devolve powers to the grass-roots level. “This is really something we are proud of,” Shah said. “People will reap the benefits of the legislation very soon.”

The meeting was attended by planning minister Raja Azam, Minister for Local Government Muhammad Ismail, Deputy Speaker Jamil Ahmed, legislator Ayub Shah, the advocate general and a UNDP representative.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2014.

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