The Punjab Assembly has concluded a two-day debate on the Punjab Local Government Bill 2013, which is to be passed by the house on August 15.
The PML-Q’s Waqas Hassan Moakkal and the PTI’s Sibtain Khan told The Express Tribune that treasury members had invited them to a final meeting of the special committee set up to finalise the draft bill for Thursday morning, before the resumption of the assembly session in the afternoon.
The four opposition members on the 12-member committee boycotted the committee meetings in the week before Eid, when the legislators went through the draft bill clause by clause and introduced a series of amendments.
Moakkal and Khan said that they had been assured that their suggestions would be incorporated in the final draft to be put up for a vote in the assembly on Thursday. If their proposals were incorporated, they said, they would sign the special committee’s report to be laid in the house on Thursday. Otherwise, they would write dissenting notes. Though they had boycotted last week’s meetings, they would attend the final meeting, they said.
Tuesday’s assembly proceedings began at 11.13am with Speaker Rana Iqbal Khan in the chair. Though Tuesday is traditionally a private members’ day, the speaker suspended the rules of procedures and allowed the house to continue the debate on the Local Government Bill.
During the debate, Malik Ahmad of the PML-N made a number of proposals for incorporation in the bill. He said that introducing a panchyat system at the union council level was a good idea, but its members and head should be elected directly. Leaving their selection to the union council chairman and vice chairman was to promote nepotism, bias and ‘biradrism’, he said. In India, the heads of arbitration councils were elected directly, he added.
Ahmad said that the chairman of the union council should not be elected directly, but by the elected general councillors, just as MPAs elect the chief minister and MNAs elect the prime minister. The councillors should have the right to select their leader, he said.
He noted that small towns would be subdivided into wards rather than union councils, which would increase the divide between rural and urban areas. He said that the previous local government law had failed because of the confusion it caused about the powers of the executive magistracy and deputy commissioner. Such confusion must be avoided in this bill, he added.
The local elections should be held on a party basis, he said, so local politicians got the chance to contest the elections on the basis of their party manifesto. He said that Article 14A of the Constitution stated that power must be devolved to the grass roots. But the district health and education authorities envisioned in the Local Government Bill would not be under local government control, as their heads would be appointed by the provincial government.
Asif Mehmood of the PTI said that just as there were reserved seats for non-Muslims, workers, peasants and women, there should be a seat reserved for youth at each union council and more in the higher tiers of local government.
Ahmed Khan of the PTI said that the delimitation of the patwar circle or revenue state should also be considered. He raised concerns about the delimitation of union councils. While the bill stated that each UC would have a population of around 20,000, the government had not taken a census since 1998, so the populations of the old UCs had probably doubled to 40,000.
He said that criteria for the selection of panchayat members should be suggested in the bill. He said that the elections should be on a party basis. PML-N’s Zulfiqar Ghori demanded an increased number of seats reserved for non-Muslims.
The speaker has adjourned the session till Thursday evening.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2013.