Minister of Human Rights and Minority Affairs Ijaz Alam Augustine (center) attends the Centre for Social Justice’s program for minority councilors on July 3. (Photo: CSJ)
Christian councilors from Pakistan's Punjab are calling for the revival of the local government system in the province after it was dissolved four months ago.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) supported their demand at a July 3 convention on "Empowering Local Minorities’ Representation" to underline the issues faced by representatives of religious minorities. The CSJ also formed social media groups of the 60 councilors from 10 districts of Punjab.
Salman Abid, executive director of the Institute for Democratic Education and Advocacy, called for strengthening the representation of minorities in political parties.
“Religious minorities perform more in local bodies than provincial and federal government, where they are merely designated a minority wing. They are not even invited to party sessions. They remain invisible,” he said.
Minister of Human Rights and Minority Affairs Ijaz Alam Augustine agreed. “The new local body act had a lot of opportunity for minorities, especially since they could get direct votes. Thirty percent of the provincial funds would go to the local government system. There was also direct funding of local bodies,” he said.
“Breaking the mindset of discrimination against minorities is a challenge. Many of the issues plague minorities at the local level, so they need a stronger connection with the provincial and federal governments.”
The allocated funds usually end when our turn comes. When we talk for our community, we are labeled traitors
In the resolution passed following the group work, speakers and panelists recommended representation for women and minorities on local bodies, especially on subcommittees, to ensure equal participation in decision-making. They also demanded an increase in allocated minority seats in constituencies.
“The allocated funds usually end when our turn comes. When we talk for our community, we are labeled traitors,” said Justin Rafique, a member of the district council of Narowal district in Punjab.
Pakistan has three tiers of government: national, provincial and local. According to Article 140-A of the constitution, “every province shall establish the system of local governance according to law and political, administrative and financial responsibilities of local governments.
Section 83-A(6) of the Local Government Act 2019 (Amended) stipulates that apart from the seats of the general counselor of non-political or electoral groups, candidates for special seats of women, minorities, laborers and political workers will also be given representation.
District councils and metropolitan corporations are respectively the highest rural and urban tiers of local government in provinces. Both urban and rural local governments have two or three tiers in all provinces except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where councils are not identified as either urban or rural.