Local Governments Need Greater Constitutional Protections: HRCP

Commission builds a case for a constitutional amendment to Article 140-A to strengthen the local government 

Local Governments Need Greater Constitutional Protections: HRCP

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called for a constitutional amendment to Article 140-A of the Constitution to strengthen and maintain local government protection and continuity and ensure citizen representation at all levels.

In this regard, the HRCP held a consultation in collaboration with Dehleez, where it presented its policy paper. Legislators, policymakers and civil society members debated the paper at length.

Director Farah Zia introduced the programme, noting how dictatorships have historically favoured local governments in Pakistan but the democratically elected governments, not so much . Hence there was a need for more comprehensive constitutional protection for them.

Zafarullah Khan, a civic educator and researcher for HRCP's policy paper, expanded on the idea of devolution in other federations worldwide, many of which have provincial constitutions. He underscored why an amendment delineating a specific period for local government elections is essential to guaranteeing that citizens' needs are represented and addressed at every level.

Other participants also weighed in on the proposed amendment.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Bilal Kiyani endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment to ensure the continuity of local governments and hoped that, with the establishment of standing committees and caucuses, it could be reviewed in earnest.

Awami Worker's Party (AWP) member Farman Ali emphasised the importance of democratising the political parties alongside constitutional amendments to strengthen local governance.

Other participants, such as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) representative Sibte Haider Bukhari and Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) National Coordinator Rashid Chaudhry, underscored the importance of strengthening local government and deemed it necessary to have further follow-ups to the consultation.

HRCP council member Farhatullah Babar proposed enacting a local government law for Islamabad which could be presented as a model example to other provincial governments. He further suggested basing the criteria of provincial share in the national finance commission award to the provinces' adoption of the United Nation's (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and empowerment of local governments as further incentives. Moreover, quotas for women, religious minorities, youth, people with disabilities, and transgender individuals must be ensured to contest local government seats.

HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique suggested that the local government needs to be de-bureaucratised.

He reiterated HRCP's commitment to building political and public support for the amendment in further discussions.