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August 17, 2017
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Politics of the reserved

Opinion

August 17, 2017

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After the 18th Amendment, administrative powers were decentralised and shifted from the federal government to the provinces. Through the insertion of Article 140-A into the constitution, the local government was recognised and mandated as a provincial subject, which was previously administered by the federal government. It was made compulsory for the provinces to legislate, hold elections and transfer powers to the local governments.

The Supreme Court also threw its weight behind this arrangement. It held that under Articles 32 and 140-A of the constitution, the federal government was bound to hold elections in the federal domain while provincial governments were expected to conduct polls in the provinces. This would ensure the participation of the people in the administration as well as the political and financial affairs of the government through the local government system.

Soon, all the provincial assemblies passed laws for the local government as per their constitutional mandate. The KP Assembly passed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act (KPLGA) 2013 whereby the elections for the local government were held in KP. In the local government elections in May 2015, representatives for three different tiers of the local governments – city/district, town/tehsil and neighbourhood/village councils – were elected.

The KPLGA 2013 specifies general seats on which members were directly elected on the basis of adult franchise. In addition, each council has a specified number of seats reserved for women, peasants, workers, the youth and non-Muslims. The number of reserved seats for women in the district and tehsil councils is around 30 percent. Elections were held for these through proportional representation. According to the KPLGA 2013, the allocation of reserved seats was a temporary measure to improve the political participation of the marginalised groups and encourage their participation in the mainstream.

In its judgments, the country’s apex court has held that reserved seats were introduced to enable certain categories of people who may otherwise not be able to compete fairly – such as women, peasants, workers and non-Muslims. This aims to alleviate deprivation and create a level playing field.

Unlike the experience of previous local governments, which were introduced by the military regime, the existing local government laws in all provinces exhibit a political consensus with respect to the importance of devolving government powers at the doorstep of the people. It was highly appreciated when the KP government channelled at least 30 percent of the development funds through the local government.

But the provincial government seems reluctant to find out that whether members elected on general and reserved seats in the local government are receiving equal development funds and similar treatment or vice versa. The officials of KP local government claim that it is the duty of concerned council to distribute funds equally among all members because all members are equal irrespective in the eyes of the law of whether they are on general seats or reserved seats. 

The Local Government Commission (LGC), headed by the minister for local government, is the principal body constituted to look into the affairs of the local governments in the province. The LGC is empowered to conduct inspections and hold inquiries, resolve disputes between the local governments and take cognisance of any violation of laws or rules. While doing all this, the LGC has been vested with the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. There are directions from the LGC to the councils to treat all members equally and women with priority in the ADP. But practically, these instructions are rarely followed. 

Women members who are elected on reserved seats from various districts of the KP local government – including members of districts, tehsil and village councils – receive fewer funds as compared to their colleagues who are elected on general seats. Some of them have been completely ignored in this discourse. These women members are allegedly told that they don’t have the right to claim development funds because they became a part of the council via a parachute. If they have not incurred any expenses for the elections, how can they claim the development funds?

These disheartened members say that if they had been aware that being elected on reserved seats would bring such disgrace, they might as well have contested elections on general seats. They are displeased about why the provincial government, the LGC, political parties and other key stakeholders are silent on the issue of women’s empowerment.

When the women elected on reserved seats and the members elected on general seats are equal in term of council business, why are they treated in a discriminatory manner when it comes to the disbursement of developmental funds? Are they elected only for a show of hands on the floor of council? If they are not aware of their rights, how can they fight for the rights of their community? They don’t understand the technical procedures of the council because no training has been offered to them. How can they could pass schemes for their areas under the ADP?

Several questions arise from this. Are women members on reserved seats – who constitute around 30 percent of each tier of the KPLG and represent more than 50 percent of the population of the province – getting their due rights and representation? Are these women able to contribute towards their due obligations? Has the KPLGA 2013 achieved its goals in empowering the deprived segments of society by creating reserved seats for women? Or, should all stakeholders rethink the ill-treatment and discrimination against members on reserved seats?   

Discrimination on the basis of gender and seats must end. Equal funds, powers and facilities should be provided to all members irrespective of whether they are elected on general seats or on reserved seats. If the stakeholders believe in strengthening and mainstreaming women, they should end the discrimination among members. The third year of the KP local government has begun and the three tiers of the administration are busy in tallying their respective budgets. This is the time for the KP government to take this issue seriously and end discrimination against women.

 

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: s_irshadahmad

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