Wednesday, November 29, 2023
KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) on Tuesday organised a conference titled "Independent Districts: Strong Pakistan" at a local hotel with an aim to facilitate "comprehensive" constitutional amendments to decentralise power.
MQM-P Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said the conference — attended by politicians, social workers, journalists, lawyers and business representatives — aimed at bringing political parties under the same roof towards a collective goal of assisting the public in building a prosperous, empowered and robust Pakistan with the help of collaboration between religious and political factions.
He said the Constitution, in its present form, could neither protect itself nor common citizens.
"Now there is a need for implementing a constitution that can ensure equal rights of citizens. Just as the powers of prime minister and chief ministers are listed in the Constitution, the powers of local governments should also be highlighted.
The real reason behind the crisis in Pakistan is the lack of honest intention which is more problematic than the unfair distribution of resources. Pakistan needs a constitution in which workers are represented by workers and not landlords or feudals," he added.
MQM-P Senior Deputy Convener Mustafa Kamal expressed optimism with hopes for an end to the challenging times for Pakistanis and welcomed the presence of all parties at the conference.
The former Karachi mayor lamented that five people are in control of the resources and authority of this country while there is no procedure defined in the Constitution to bring the resources and power to the lower level.
He added that MQM-P was presenting three proposals for amendments to the Constitution.
"Just as the powers of chief ministers and prime minister are written in the Constitution, the powers of local government representatives should also be written. The provincial finance commissions should work like the National Finance Commission. Holding of general elections must be subjected to the presence of local governments," Kamal said.
He suggested that parties opposing new provinces in the country should support these amendments. Pakistan has not benefited significantly from provincial autonomy, but all resources have been limited to chief ministers.
MQM-P Senior Deputy Convener Dr Farooq Sattar said today was the day to take the first step towards real change. After the establishment of Pakistan, the slogan of a strong centre and a strong Pakistan came into existence.
For the last 15 years, people have been deceived in the name of the 18th Amendment and provincial autonomy, he added, highlighting that unless the powers and resources are transferred to the lower level, the dream of a strong Pakistan will not be fulfilled. Empowered and stable local governments are the guarantors of a strong Pakistan, Farooq said.
"The inclusion of clauses warranting decentralization of power and resources to the district level is inevitable in the Constitution. The institutions for purely civic needs should be subordinated to local governments."
Former federal law minister and Senator Farogh Naseem said the issue of constitutional amendments raised by the MQM-P was challenged in the Supreme Court to bring powers to the lower level through Article 140/A, but unfortunately, no substantial results were obtained. Pakistan needs new constitutional amendments and legislation so that it can walk side by side with the world, he added.
The MQM-P’s thought of development, Farogh stated, is not only limited to Karachi but the whole of Pakistan. "Now is the perfect time to forget all the differences of the past and move towards a new and better Pakistan."
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Ahmad Iqbal while commenting on MQM-P suggestions said today would be an important milestone in the efforts made regarding the powers of local governments.
"Unfortunately, ANP Sindh President Shahi Syed said prosperous people were the guarantee of a prosperous Pakistan. The 18th Amendment has not been implemented in its true sense to date. If the resources are not brought to the doorsteps of people, the dream of a better Pakistan will never be fulfilled."
Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) leader Imran Ismail said Karachi had always been considered a milking cow but the fodder for this cow was not according to its needs. He commended MQM-P's effort to empower local governments across the country.
Quoting an example of double standards in Karachi, Ismail said the Nasla Tower was demolished, but its builders were not brought to justice.
Miftah Ismail, meanwhile, said if reforms regarding local governments were not made, Pakistan would lag behind the world.
Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) General Secretary Safdar Abbasi said local government powers laws were made but were never implemented in different periods.
Journalist Mazhar Abbas said MQM was the only party which had flourished in the nursery of student politics and local governments and the draft presented by it would remain a turning point in the political history of the country.
"Until local governments are empowered, the politics of the country will remain in a state of chaos. Karachi is the economic and social hub of Pakistan. Instead of making this country a welfare state, it has been turned into real estate."
Writer Khawar Mehdi said democracy remained incomplete without empowering local governments in civilised societies, while former Sindh governor Moinuddin Haider said local governments were the foundation of democracy, only through them, a strong Pakistan could be formed.
"The irony is that local governments have always been empowered under dictatorial regimes and their powers were taken away during political periods," he added.
PILDAT Director Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, in his message, said the elections and powers of local governments should not only be listed in the Constitution, but legal protection should also be provided.
Sindh Bar Association President Rehan Malik said: "We will not be able to put the country on the path of development in the true sense until we empower local representatives.”