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Pervez Musharraf's new plan for democracy

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It has taken care of every aspect of local government and devolution of power

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
Apr 03 - 09, 2000

The district government proposal announced by the Chief Executive Gen Pervez Musharraf at a press conference on Pakistan Day (March 23) may bring about a profound change in the way we have governed ourselves sofar. The comprehensive district and local government outline programme provides for a genuine devolution of power at the grassroots level. According to the plan the non-party elections to the three tiers of local bodies institutions will be held from December 2000 to July 2001. Gen Musharraf listed four guiding principles of his new plan as let people be master of their destinies, subordination of government functionaries to elected representatives to make them serve the people, provision of speedy justice to the common man at his doorstep and making district councils self-reliant and self-sufficient by according them full fiscal autonomy. By August 14, 2001 all the councils will be on the ground.

The most striking feature of the plan is that it has taken care of every aspect of local government and devolution of power. First the voters age has been reduced from 21 years to 18 years to ensure greater participation of the youth in the electoral process. And there are no two opinions that the youth of today is intelligent and more conscious of the working and functioning of democracy. Secondly, the plan provides for a handsome participation of women in the local government. As a matter of fact they have been given equal participation with the male members. This kind of participation for women is not available even in the Western world. Lastly, the local councils would be fully empowered in all respects. They would make their own laws, plan for development of their areas, would raise their own funds and spend as they like. This should go a long way in eliminating disharmony between the units of the federation. While announcing the devolution of power plan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf described it as the start of a new era of democracy and commended the efforts of the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) for doing an excellent job.

The announcement made by the Chief Executive was followed by a press conference by the NRB Chief Gen(R) Tanvir Hussain Naqvi who claimed that everything under the new system of district governments stemmed from Article 7 and 32 of the 1973 Constitution. When asked whether the system would sustain the changes taking place in future, he said: "We do feel that the system of district government needs protection for which we will take appropriate steps".

In the press conference, which was primarily called to elaborate what was unfolded by the Chief Executive, Gen (R) Naqvi explained that the district government would have 13 major departments under them. These departments are health, education, literacy, commerce and industries, law, agriculture, coordination, finance, planning and budget, public work, environment, democratic development, information technology, revenue, and magistracy.

"The district administration will initially be set up with the existing line departments However, it will gradually move toward corporate governance driven by an entrepreneurial approach", Mr. Naqvi said, adding, "this involves the introduction of a customer-service orientation toward the citizenery, result-based management through achievement indicators, performance evaluations, hiring, promotions, transfers and firing based on monitoring through committees."

The tehsil councils will perform two main functions. i) Provision of municipal services to the entire tehsil through the local government functionaries serving under the control of the mayor; ii)and coordinating the monitoring of the district government functionaries at the tehsil level.

About the qualification of candidates for the local government, elections, Mr. Naqvi said a citizen of Pakistan, at least 25 years of age, possessing a good moral character and enrolled as a voter in electoral; roll of the relevant union, could contest these elections. A candidate cannot contest elections if he is for the time being disqualified from being elected; is a wilful tax evader or a loan defaulter, or has not paid his/her utility bills, or is an undischarged insolvent; has been guilty of a corrupt or illegal practice; has been convicted for any offence involving moral turpitude and has been sentenced to imprisonment unless a period of five years has elapsed since his/her release; has been removed / compulosorily retired from the service of Pakistan unless a period of five years has elapsed since his removal; is a public government servant; holds an office of profit in the service of Pakistan except Lumbardars, Qaumi Razakars etc, is propagating any opinion or acting prejudicial to the ideology, sovereignty, integrity, security of Pakistan etc.

These qualifications, according to NRB chief, have been derived from Article 62 and 63 of the constitution. When no candidate for elective office receives more than 50 per cent of the votes, the election authority will within one week conduct a run-off election between the two candidates who polled the highest number of votes. The run-off election will be applicable to the elections of the chief mayor and deputy mayor on or joint ticket, and mayors of the tehsils.

He said the chief mayor can be removed through a resolution by the two-thirds majority of the district assembly. However, this resolution will have to win simple majority votes from union councils as well.

The chief may or can also dissolve the district assembly if he believes that it is not wroking in line with its mandate. However, his decision will require the endorsement by simple majority of union councils.

Provincial government, Naqvi said, would also have the power to dismiss any of its district government if it really believed that it was not working according to the mandate. However, this decision of the provincial government could only be implemented after the approval of the senate by showing simple majority.

Dreaming that the country's cities, towns and rural areas would prosper and develop like anything under the new system, the NRB chief said that the existing system of imperialism and colonialism was introduced to watch the interest of the crown through offices like deputy commissioners, tehsildars and patwaris. "We are turning around this system to serve the interest of the people," he said aiding that the people of Pakistan were valuable asset to them.

When asked whether the district government could change the things when the existing deep-rooted systems of feudalism and capitalism were in place, he believed, " it is a romantic notion to keep the money out of politics" He said several countries in the world had made laws to curb the influence of money into politics but could not achieve the desired results.

To another question seeking a minimum level of education for candidates, he said, "we will not adopt any undemocratic methods to evolve a genuine democracy". He rejected the general impression that illiterate people were not politically conscious and termed it an "elitist nation".

To another question, he said, the main objective of the new system is to turnaround the existing urban rural divide through urban rural integration which would bring development everywhere, including the rural areas. For the first time, he said, urban areas would also elect union council. The district judiciary would be reformed to meet the following ends; Disposal of 90 per cent of the complaints of litigants within the district; efficacious delivery of justice; prompt disposal of cases bringing justice to the doorstep; and preemption of litigation. Public safety and justice committees will also be constituted at union and district levels by electing from among union councillers and district assembly members respectively to monitor police and judicial activities in their respective areas.

The decision of the present government to keep these proposal under public Rebate till Aug. 1 is most appropriate in the view of the complexity of a new scheme. The final programme will be announced on Aug 14 which will be formulated in the height of the discussions and public debate which may help the authorities to further improve the programme.