The Local Government Act of 2013, promulgated in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), for the first time allocated reserved seats (one each) for the youth at the Union Council (UC) level. Punjab has allowed 4,245 youth councillors to join through selection basis, whereas K-P has created a space for more than 4,500 young leaders to emerge as councillor after the two nominated youth in every council contest elections besides having reserved seats. This move should be valued as a milestone towards youth political empowerment for the respective local governments as Sindh and Balochistan are still without such legislation to include their youth in the mainstream politics.
Youth development is unanimously identified as pertinent municipal issue by all democracies in the world. On the one hand, it is a welcome move to adopt the model of youth representation through local bodies, but on the other, its implementation remains a big question. So far the legislation has no specific Terms of Reference (ToRs). Even in the subsequent legislation, official guidelines and rules and procedures, there have been no clear ToRs and guidelines given for specific roles and tasks of the youth councillors. There is no identification of spaces where they can implement their mandate to connect with at the community level in a meaningful way. They have not been given any orientation or training for youth development. There is no mechanism through which they can govern their official role. No targets, indicators and monitoring systems to make their existence relevant have yet been set. There is so far no difference between the role of a general councillor and a youth councillor, and a youth-specific action plan is yet to be articulated. Most importantly, the youth quota is gender insensitive as it excludes female youth participation.
I spoke to a number of political leaders both from Punjab and K-P and they were all of the opinion that since there are reserved seats allocated to women in local governments, there should be seats for the youth as well. During my visit to Lahore at the time of youth selection for local bodies, interested girls were asked to withdraw their nominations for boys in the UCs. Becoming a youth councillor is a platform for young politicians to participate in decision-making and be recognised rather than being mere participants, so why should young aspiring girls be exempted from this opportunity?
We need to take initiatives to work with our prospective and untapped pool of youth leaders, both girls and boys. They not only have links at the grassroots level with the youth of the communities but are also part of the elected tier of the local governments. There is a sizable pool of young leaders who need to get hands-on experience of representing the youth for five years within decision-making forums of the local government.
An action plan should be devised which would develop common understanding within the local government and public circles to allocate youth councillors their roles within the communities they represent. They need to be trained and entitled to get an exposure within the ambit of youth policies and framework for youth councillors to build their competence and pave the way for a long-term process of strengthening youth involvement in peace-building at the local level and youth development efforts. There should be an interconnected multidimensional framework for them to exercise at the municipal level, which would eventually train them to become political leaders of the future. Youth councillors should be given a clear mandate with written ToRs and a scope of work that they shall be held accountable for at the end of their term.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2017.