Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly passes Local Government Act 2014
The Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly unanimously passed Local Government Act 2014 on 18 August. The Act was drafted by a Select Committee nominated by the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. UNDP and Gilgit-Baltistan Policy Institute provided technical support to the Committee throughout the process.
Since September 1979 Gilgit-Baltistan has operated under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance of 1979. The region’s local governance system is based on two tiers: District Councils and Union Councils/Municipal Committees below them. The middle tier of Tehsil Council was not included.
Describing the passage of the Local Government Act 2014, Law Minister Ali Madad Sher remarked, “It’s a memorable occasion. The Assembly has enacted yet another law that empowers the citizens in having a say in the region’s development planning.”
The local government bill was drafted through a participatory and consultative process similar to that undertaken by the Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Reforms in drafting the 18th Constitutional Amendment. The 13 member Committee included representation from all political parties represented in the Assembly and conducted multi-stakeholder consultations in Gilgit and Skardu to incorporate feedback in the draft law. A conscious effort was made by the Committee to engage with political parties, representatives of civil society organizations, youth and women leaders and constitutional experts.
Deputy Speaker of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, Mr. Jameel Ahmed, observed “It is important to note that the new local government law of Gilgit-Baltistan is in line with the Charter of Democracy that called for local government elections on a party basis.”
Gilgit-Baltistan’s local government legislation promises to maximise benefits of self-governance to citizens at the lowest tier, introduces local participatory and democratic decision-making processes, encourages women’s participation in local governments and ensures the effective transfer of power from the regional to the local government. The Gilgit-Baltistan Government will now work with the Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan to map out the process of conducting local government elections.
Key features of the Gilgit-Baltistan Local Government Act 2014 are:
1. Urban and rural areas will be selected in which local governance structures will be formed comprising elected representative on the basis of adult franchise and indirectly elected members to reserved seats for women and religious minorities.
2. Local government elections will be held on a party basis and under a single ward electoral system, which will contribute toward encouraging greater cohesion among different religious groups and ensuring sectarian harmony in the region.
3. The Standing Committee System has been introduced at the local government level for effective participatory development policy planning, monitoring and implementation.
4. A Local Government Commission will be set up to ensure a link between the Gilgit-Baltistan Government and Local Government structures.
5. A Local Council Board will be formed to oversee the appointments and other service related matters of local government employees.
6. Under the local government service structure, local government employees will be considered public servants and will receive honoraria, pensions, provident funds and other employment related benefits.
7. Two city metropolitan corporations will be established in Gilgit and Skardu Districts, each headed by a Mayor and a Deputy Mayor.
8. A Jirga Anjuman will be formed at the District Council level for out-of-court dispute settlement.
9. In addition to reserved seats for women, the law specifically mentions that any local council will not be considered effective and functioning unless the required number of women’s seats has been filled.
At the district level, local councils will undertake performance audits of the line departments and also conduct stakeholder consultations on annual development plans to ensure citizen feedback in policy-making.