Opposition members boycotted the meeting of a special committee set up to finalise the Punjab Local Government Bill of 2013, a large portion of which was approved in their absence on Monday.
The bill was tabled in the Punjab Assembly on July 25 and sent to the 12-member committee – consisting of four opposition and eight treasury members – to draw up a consensus draft.
The committee meeting on Monday, its fifth overall, was the first to be boycotted by the opposition members.
Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly, told The Express Tribune that the boycott was a protest against Local Government Minister Rana Sanaullah, who had backed down on a promise to put off the committee’s deliberations till after Eid.
Sibtain Khan, the PTI member on the committee, said that upon Sanaullah’s assurance, the opposition members had returned to their homes for the last days of Ramazan.
But the opposition account does not match up with the minister’s public statements. During assembly proceedings on August 1 – also boycotted by the opposition – Sanaullah had stated that the special committee would resume its meetings from Monday, August 5, and continue up till the Eid holidays. He had also stated that the government would reconvene the assembly on August 12 to pass the bill.
Syed Waseem Akhtar of Jamaat-i-Islami, Sardar Shahabuddin Khan of the PPP and Waqas Hassan Moakkal of the PML-Q also boycotted the meeting.
Sanaullah, speaking after the committee meeting on Monday, said that he had promised to call the meeting on August 5 and that was what he had done. He said all eight committee members from the treasury and three other treasury MPAs had participated. He said he would try to convince the opposition members to attend the next meetings on Tuesday (today) and Wednesday.
The committee began clause-wise approval of the bill on Monday, making a few changes along the way.
In chapter five, the committee decided that the returning officer must publish the location of polling booths 27 hours before polling rather than 24 hours. A public servant removed for misconduct may contest the elections one year after their removal, rather than three years. A no-confidence motion cannot be moved against a mayor or chairman until one year into his term.
In chapter six, the committee decided that chief officer of local government shall be the principal accounting officer, while the chairman and secretary will be the joint authority in union councils.
In chapter seven, the committee considered ways to make the union councils more powerful. During the discussion on chapter eight, about district councils, the PML-N’s Aleem Shah said that in the presence of health and education authorities, deputy commissioners who look after revenue and the police to look after security, there was little power left for the district chairman.
Local Government Secretary Jawad Rafique Malik said that the Services and General Administration Department was drawing up legislation to give district council chairmen some power to look at law and order. Sanaullah added that the chairman would write annual confidential reports for chief officers of local government.
Chapter nine, about municipal committees, chapter 10, about metropolitan and municipal corporations, and chapter 11, on health and education authorities, were approved with minor changes. Chapter 12 on panchayats and arbitration councils was also approved.
Sanaullah said that the idea in setting up district health and education authorities was to delegate the power to monitor activities, transfer and recruit officials, and to draw up policies to the local level. They shall be headed by chief executive officers of grade 19 or 20, replacing EDOs. The CEOs will exercise his powers with the approval of authority members, who will be elected local government members, technocrats, MPAs and MNAs. In time, the technocrats would be replaced by elected members.
The committee will discuss sections of the bill on taxation, financial powers and composition of local tiers in the next meetings.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2013.
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