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Thursday, May 23, 2024

How do new local bodies laws compare to Charter of Democracy?

A new Charter of Democracy is to be signed by the Pakistan Democratic Movement said Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman yesterday.

Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has indicated that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) will create a new Charter of Democracy tomorrow. Talking to reporters after the eleven-party alliance meeting, he said that all parties were going to submit proposals by the next meeting. Using these proposals, a new charter would be drawn up.

Both Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif were present during the meeting. Nawaz Sharif attended via video link, while Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is running campaigns in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Read more: PPP to leave PDM if ‘allowed’ to form government in GB

The previous Charter of Democracy was signed in 2006 on May 14th, while both Nawaz Sharif of the PMLN and Benazir Bhutto of the PPP was in exile. The document was an affront to “military subordination of all state institutions,” with its prime objective.

Speaking to reporters back in 2006, the two leaders of PMLN and the PPP after the signing, said that they“discussed issues related to Pakistan’s security, such as provincial autonomy and the situation in Balochistan and Waziristan” and “agreed upon a strategy to resolve the country’s internal security issues.” The two leaders also discussed international issues, “particularly Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan, and agreed to adopt a joint strategy on these matters in the future.”

The current status of the Charter of Democracy

The two leaders demanded “an independent election commission to monitor the next general elections” and refused to accept “elections under President General Pervez Musharraf’s government.” In their view, a caretaker government was not the one envisaged in the 17th Amendment and was more like a “national government.” They did not point to any pledge about amending the Constitution to ensure an independent judiciary, which could not be “stuffed” by either party.

The Charter of Democracy eventually led to the cutting to size of Islamabad’s power. The vision was to give power to the provinces and eventually to the people. The charter says,” Noting our responsibility to our people to set an alternative direction for the country saving it from its present predicaments on an economically sustainable, socially progressive, politically democratic and pluralist, federally cooperative, ideologically tolerant, internationally respectable and regionally peaceful basis in the larger interests of the peoples of Pakistan to decide once for all that only the people and no one else has the sovereign right to govern through their elected representatives, as conceived by the democrat par excellence, Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah.”

Read more: Is there an agenda behind PDM’s use of ‘Free Balochistan’?

Realistically, after the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s first government on 6 August 1990 by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the grounds of corruption, the government of Pakistan issued directives to its intelligence agencies to investigate the allegations. After the fourth national elections, Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister and intensified prosecution proceedings against Bhutto. Pakistani embassies through Western Europe—in France, Switzerland, Spain, Poland, and Britain—were directed to investigate the matter. Bhutto and her husband faced several legal proceedings, including a charge of laundering money through Swiss banks. Though never convicted, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, spent eight years in prison on similar corruption charges. After being released on bail in 2004, Zardari suggested that his time in prison involved torture, ‘Dawn’ had reported in 2003.

All previous grievances forgotten? 

A 1998 New York Times investigative report claimed that Pakistani investigators have documents that uncover a network of bank accounts linked to the family’s lawyer in Switzerland, with Asif Zardari as the principal shareholder. According to the article, documents released by the French authorities indicated that Zardari offered exclusive rights to Dassault, a French aircraft manufacturer, to replace Pakistan’s air force’s fighter jets in exchange for a 5% commission to be paid to a Swiss corporation controlled by Zardari. The article also said a Dubai company received an exclusive license to import gold into Pakistan. Asif Zardari received payments of more than $10 million into his Dubai-based Citibank accounts. The company owner denied that he had made payments to Zardari and claimed the documents were forged.

However, in 2018, after his ouster, the PML-N supremo reached out to  Zardari’s and addressed his ‘grievances’ that the cases against him were made in Sharif’s tenure, asked the JUI-F chief to convey his message that he didn’t make the cases against the PPP co-chairman. The two unlikely partners have since then increasingly become cooperative.

Read more: Will lawmakers quit PML-N after Nawaz Sharif’s controversial narrative?

Nawaz Sharif further had then in 2018 said that he did not know of the cases against the ex-president, Zardari. Sources said that Fazlur Rehman had helped neutralize misunderstandings between the PPP and PML-N so that the grand opposition could devise a strategy against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.

In 2015 Farrukh Saleem writing for ‘The News’ had said,” On 25 March 2015, PM Nawaz Sharif was at PAF Base Faisal, Southern Air Command Headquarters. PM Nawaz Sharif, in the presence of Lieutenant-General Naveed Mukhtar, HI(M), Commander V Corps, and Major-General Bilal Akbar, DG Pakistan Rangers (Sindh), approved “the second phase of the Karachi Operation.”

Two observations: First – who approved the first phase of the Karachi Operation? Second – Governor Ishrat-ul-Ibad Khan belonging to the MQM and CM Qaim Ali Shah belonging to the PPP were not invited to the meeting purportedly held for the approval of the second phase of the Karachi operation.”

Local Bodies reformation new way forward?

The COD hence never truly achieved its primary goal of giving more power to the people. Recently, however, the KPK and Punjab government successfully passed new ‘local bodies acts.’ Both of which strengthen the power of the people and engage in trickle-down politics.

The KPK act included In April 2019, the Local Government Act 2013 was amended and passed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial assembly as the Local Government Amendment Act 2019 in Pakistan. Amendments such as shrinking the list of devolved functions and offices under the supervision of the local government, the abolition of the tier of elected district government and introduction of alternative dispute resolution bodies at different levels in settled districts, as well as newly merged tribal districts (previously referred to as the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) stand to have a significant impact on the functioning and powers of the local government system.

The first-ever direct election of the heads, including the Mayor and Chairman and systems in place within these districts, there will (previously referred to as Nazims) is an important step. Amendments such as shrinking the list of devolved functions and offices, the abolition of the tier of elected district government and introduction of alternate dispute resolution bodies at different levels in settled districts as well as newly merged institutional challenges and policy constraints that tribal districts (previously referred to as the Local federally administered tribal areas (FATA) ) stand have a significant impact on the functioning and powers the province. The identification of challenges is of the local government system, according to Democracy International.

In a study about the new Punjab local bodies act, it read that the new act allowed stronger emphasis on the functionality of the local government system and its capability to deliver services (e.g., the option to fix minimum service standards and to determine the required minimum budget allocation, insulation of administration from political interference, new stipulations regarding the responsiveness of local governments to citizens’ needs). It also enabled stronger emphasis on local governments’ inclusiveness and the need to consult citizens (a requirement for consultations, bi-annual public meetings, the requirement to consult on proposed local taxes, fees, rates and tolls, minimum of at least five percent of the total.

The strengthening of Local Governance Support to Local Governance (LoGo) also included expenditures of a local government to be incurred by it in a particular financial year on construction works- to be allocated for community initiatives). There is also a strong emphasis on openness, transparency, and access to information.

The study also said that if implemented, the new act would enable a better and more predictable transfer of grants to local governments based on certain principles, which will be executed with the potential to incorporate performance-based transfers, a stronger “rights-based” approach, e.g., Sec. 5.3 emphasizes residents’ right to contribute to the local government’s functioning, be informed about its initiatives and finances,  and “use and enjoy”  the facilities and services provided by the local governments.

The Eighteenth Amendment had taken away the monopoly of power from Islamabad and created oligopolies within Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, etc. The new local bodies’ acts by KPK and Punjab truly move-in giving power to the people. The new COD could include such improvements.

GVS News Desk