LAHORE, Pakistan: The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) organized the Punjab Minority Councilors Convention on “Effective and Empowered Minority Representation in Local Government System” to highlight the issues faced by representatives of religious minorities, with the participation of provincial councilors and socio-political leaders.
The convention lauded the issuance of the Local Government Ordinance 2020 and the idea of the direct election on majority seats and each level and demand for elections as soon as possible.
At the convention, advocate supreme and local government law expert, Mubeenuddin Qazi, director of Idea Pakistan Salman Abid, Barrister Mubeenuddin Qazi, Women MPAs Uzma Kardar from PTI and Salma Butt from PML-N, human rights activist Shazia Geroge, member national commission for minorities Albert David, Census Commissioner Punjab Amjad Sandhu, and Executive Director of CSJ, Peter Jacob were present who called for timely elections, protection of minorities from forced conversions, counting minorities in upcoming census, empowerment of minority councilors and emphasis on meaningful participation of the minority at each level.
Director CSJ Peter Jacob, during his opening presentation, informed participants on ambiguities in minority population in 2017 census, the situation of forced conversions in 2021 and implementation status of local government ordinance 2020. He said “ as per the data of census 2017, the total population of religious minorities in Pakistan in 2017 was 3.54%, however in 1998 it was 3.72% and it shows a 0.18% decrease with 0.5% decrease in Christian population. Christians in Pakistan were 1.55% in 1981, increased to 1.58% in 1998, and drastically fell to 1.27% in 2017 with no concrete reason given.” While informing participants on forced conversions he said “In 2020, 15 cases were highlighted in the media but in 2021 some 60 cases were highlighted in which around 70 percent of girls who were converted forcibly were under 18 years of age in 2021”.
Barrister Mubeen Qazi said that it is quite an achievement at the government’s end that they come up with local government ordinance 2020 that allows direct election at 60% seats and encourage penal/group elections and discourage the ‘favorite nominations’ but pursuant to Article 140-A of the Constitution, the Punjab Government should complete the system of local government as soon as possible and transfer political, administrative and financial responsibilities and powers to the elected representatives of local governments.
Ms. Uzma Kardar, MPA PTI, Ms. Salma Butt, MPA PML-N and Ms. Shazia Geroge, former member PCSW shared their point of view on violence against women and aggravated situation of forced conversions and demnaded for serious attention of the legislators and Government to enact laws to stop forced conversions.
Meanwhile, chief guest, Minister of Human Rights and Minority Affairs, Ijaz Alam Augustine said that strengthening minorities was integral. But he questioned, which system had ever allowed power to be devolved to grass root level or to minorities?
“During the last twenty years we have seen different local government systems, but we also saw that in each system minority representation was not effective and empowered as it should be,” he said.
“Our political parties have a system where we don’t want to devolve power, no one wants to delegate power. MPAs and MNAs themselves don’t want their local influence to be shared. It’s time that minority representatives at each level should take action and be vocal for their effective and empowered representation”.
Augustine said that the new local body act had a lot of opportunities for minorities, especially since they could get direct votes. Also, 30 percent of the provincial funds would go to the local government system. There was also direct funding of the local bodies.
He said that beyond the party line, we have to break the mindset of discrimination against minorities. He also mentioned many of the issues that plagued minorities at a local level because of which they needed a stronger connection with the provincial and federal governments, and that could only be done through the LG system.