ISLAMABAD, (APP – UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 8th Jun, 2020 ): Women Parliamentarians have always been played an important role in strengthening democracy and its institutions in the country.

Senator Najma Hameed told APP on Monday that women political empowerment was essential for the progress and prosperity of the country, adding that women parliamentarians were raising awareness on gender sensitive legislative reforms.

Senator Najma Hameed said women parliamentarians would continue to make efforts collectively towards women empowerment in all fields through legislative process.

She said that the Women Parliamentary Caucus continues to provide a forum to the women parliamentarians from both Houses of the Parliament to freely raise, discuss and address issues affecting the lives of the citizens of the country, especially womenfolk.

ISLAMABAD: 

The opposition parties on Monday lashed out at Prime Minister Imran Khan for skipping the National Assembly session convened to discuss the situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic in the country and the federal government’s response to it, calling the premier “inept” and the government’s strategy “confusing”.

During the NA session held after a gap of nearly two months due to the pandemic, there were moments when the discussion over the 18th amendment overshadowed the Covid-19 situation, lockdown and the federal government’s response to the economic challenges resulting from it.

The session was convened under the chairmanship of NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri as Speaker Asad Qaiser was not able to chair it as he was diagnosed with the virus last week and went into quarantine.

On the 18th amendment, both Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Asif were of the view in their speeches that the government was reopening the “fault line”.

Addressing the NA session, the PPP chairman criticised the prime minister, saying he has “failed to lead the country” during the pandemic while the PML-N leader termed the federal government’s strategy to deal with the outbreak “confusing”.

Bilawal reminded Imran that he was the premier of the entire country and “not just the PTI”.

After noticing that the prime minister’s chair was empty, Bilawal said that he was saddened to say that “our prime minister, who is also the country’s health minister, is not present in the session today. He doesn’t think that it is part of his job to brief this house and the people on coronavirus”.

“This isn’t a battle of political statements, this is a part of the prime minister’s job as the leader of the house,” he said, adding that it was his duty to outline the steps the government needed to take to fight the outbreak.

At the start of his speech, he said that the coronavirus had exposed the “true nature of US President Donald Trump, UK PM Boris Johnson and unfortunately, it has also revealed the truth about our prime minister’s ineptitude”.

He said that it would have been better if PM Imran, who also holds the portfolio of the health ministry, was present in the session and briefed the nation on the current health situation.

Asif, in his speech, slammed the PTI-led government, saying it had no clear policy on the lockdown. “When we had fewer deaths, the entire country was shut down. Now that we are seeing a spike in cases, they are easing the restrictions,” the PML-N leader said. “Centre has no strategy. What is their lockdown strategy and what is a smart lockdown? They should come up with something that less-educated people like me should be able to understand.

“It is either black or white; there is no grey area. Similarly, either it’s a lockdown or not. A complete lockdown at the outset would have gotten the country through the pandemic.”

On comments made by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi regarding the 18th amendment at the beginning of the session, Asif said that the 18th Constitutional Amendment was passed in 2010, settling the issue of provincial autonomy after a period of 65 years.

In his speech, Qureshi said that health became a provincial subject under the 18th Constitutional Amendment and after that the PPP has remained in power in Sindh and the PML-N in Punjab.

“I spent many years of my youth in PPP which always talked about federation. Today, this party smells of provincial bias,” Qureshi said, adding that it was time for “us as Pakistanis to think and avoid provincial tactics”.

Asif gave importance to the 18th amendment and said: “We might not have lost East Pakistan if we had passed the 18th amendment in the 50s or 60s.”

The PML-N leader advised not to touch the settled issues. “Through consensus we can discuss but not like this.”

He said that the government had yet to discuss the issue of the 18th amendment at the relevant constitutional forum – the Council of Common Interests (CCI).

Bilawal, on the other hand, said that the 18th amendment gave additional resources to the provinces, yet the yearly budget was not enough to battle the pandemic.

He criticised the federal government’s inability to provide provinces the help required to combat the virus and said: “The Centre should’ve stood with the provinces shoulder-to-shoulder.”

The PPP chairman said that as only the Centre could ensure uninterrupted international supply of medical supplies, it should guarantee that the provinces receive them.

“We’re in the midst of a war, and the premier expects us to fight the war on our own … can you imagine Pakistan declaring war and sending its army without guns, bullets, and uniforms,” he said, adding that there would be consequences of fighting the war on our own for all.

He was of the view that Sindh was asking for monetary assistance to spend on health and save peoples’ lives. “It is the Centre’s responsibility and it will have to help the provinces,” he said.

On 18th amendment and the National Finance Commission Award, Bilawal said, “You [Centre] are not in a position to win. I do not want to fight rather help the incumbent government during the pandemic.

“We are ready to work along with the federal government on coronavirus at every forum but the premier should keep an eye on his batting order and keep the people who can talk respectfully till we win the battle against the pandemic.”

Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said that the virus did not spread in the US, UK and other parts of the world from Taftan border. Bilawal replied, “If the virus did not come from Wuhan, China, in Pakistan, the question arises that how it was dealt at the Taftan border.

“The borders are the responsibility of the federal government. Neither the pilgrims returning from Iran had masks or food nor were their tests conducted before they reached Sukkur. The Centre should have helped the Balochistan government at that time.”

Azhar went on to say that no decision was taken on the basis of political rhetoric and that all countries were going through smart lockdown. “We won’t change our policies after listening to [opposition’s] speeches,” he quipped in his speech while responding to Asif’s remarks.

In his address, FM Qureshi emphasised on the need to restart economic activity in the country, saying that the government has to keep the wheels of the economy running.

“Pakistan is also affected by the pandemic like the rest of the world” he said, adding that the NA session was called considering the importance of parliament and after consultation with all parties.

Qureshi stressed that the coronavirus was undoubtedly the biggest crisis to hit since World War II. “Various measures are being adopted but experts have yet to find a cure for the virus,” he said. “It might take up to 18 months or two years before a vaccine is developed. However, we have to keep the wheels of the economy running.”

At the time, he noted, Pakistan’s testing capacity stood at 100 tests per day. “Now, our capacity is nearly 20,000 tests per day,” he said.

Asif and Bilawal, in their speeches, said that the government had claimed to conduct 50,000 tests every day yet it wasn’t the case.

On the PM’s stimulus package, Bilawal responded to Qureshi that he was happy when the government announced the stimulus package but when he went into its details, it emerged that “the government was not working with good intention”.

He said that he had offered PM Imran and his government to set aside political differences and work together to tackle the pandemic but received flak and verbal abuse from the highest level against his party and the chief minister. “It was so much that a leader of the ruling party went as far as to say that he contracted coronavirus due to the illiteracy of the people of Sindh,” Bilawal said.He revealed that the Sindh government prepared “Sindh Relief Ordinance” but it was not signed. “The Sindh governor should sign the Sindh Relief Ordinance tonight instead of sabotaging it,” he said.

Federal Minister for Communications and Postal Services Murad Saeed questioned the PPP government’s spending on health during Covid-19.

“In 2019, there were 29,000 cases of dog bites yet there is no vaccine. We are criticised when we question where has the money been spent,” he said.

Interestingly, the opposition parties had left the NA session without announcing a formal walkout before Saeed started his speech as it was time to break the fast.

However, the lawmakers were notified that the session would reconvene on Wednesday (tomorrow).

ISLAMABAD: 

The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved the formation and composition of the National Council for Minorities – a body for “advancing the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to non-Muslim communities under the Constitution” – six years after the top court had issued the directions for setting it up.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Federal Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said Chela Ram Kewlani, a Hindu businessman and PTI leader in Sindh, would be the chairman of the council.

There will be three members each from the Hindu and Christian communities.

The Sikh community will be represented by two members and there will be a member each from the Kalash and Parsi communities.

Qadri further said Mufti Gulzar Ahmed Naeemi and Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad would be the Muslim members of the body.

Besides, he added, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology would be the ex-officio member of the council.

The religious affairs and interfaith harmony ministry’s secretary will serve as the ex-officio secretary of the body.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court had asked the federal government to form a national council for minorities’ rights.

The court also asked the government to form a special task force for the protection of the places of worship of minorities.

The verdict came after then chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani took suo motu notice of a letter complaining of lack of proper action in the case of the terrorist attack on a Peshawar church in September 2013 in which 81 people were killed. He also took notice of petitions on attacks on Hindu temples and shrines and the threats to the Kalashas as well as Ismailis in Chitral.

It said in all cases of violation of any of the rights guaranteed under the law or desecration of the places of worship of minorities, the concerned law enforcing agencies should promptly take action including the registration of criminal cases against the delinquents. The apex court also asked to develop appropriate curricula at school and college level to promote religious tolerance in the country.

A one-member commission, headed by Dr Shoaib Suddle, was established in January last year pursuant to the order of the Supreme Court for the implementation of the 2014 judgment.

A committee comprising Supreme Court lawyer Saqib Jillani, Additional Attorney General Sajjid Ilyas Bhatti and MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani was also formed for this purpose.

The commission prepared a bill, titled “National Council for Minorities Act, 2020”, and shared it with various stakeholders, including the attorney general, the Prime Minister’s Office, secretaries of various ministries, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) chairman, the provincial advocates general, chief secretaries and the Islamabad chief commissioner, seeking their recommendations within two weeks to increase the independence and effectiveness of the council.

ISLAMABAD: The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Tuesday agreed to withdraw its requisition notice after the government announced that it would convene the National Assembly session from May 11.

Talking to reporters after attending a meeting of the special committee of the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced that the government and the opposition had reached an understanding for convening the physical session of the assembly under strict adherence to health guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for ensuring safety of the members and the staff of the National Assembly Secretariat.

The PML-N made the withdrawal of its requisition notice for convening the NA session with a categorical announcement of a date by the government for summoning the regular assembly session. This is the second time in six weeks that the PML-N has withdrawn its requisition notice.

The party had submitted the requisition notice carrying signatures of 98 opposition members on April 22 under Article 54(3) of the Constitution with a seven-point agenda, mainly seeking discussions on issues related to the coronavirus situation in the country. Under the Constitution, the speaker was bound to convene the assembly session within 14 days i.e. by May 6 (today).

PML-N withdraws requisition notice after FM’s assurance

The government and the opposition members had been discussing the SOPs for conducting physical session of the assembly for the past several weeks, but the situation became grave when Speaker Asad Qaiser tested positive for Covid-19 on May 1, leading to the complete shutdown of the National Assembly Secretariat and the Parliament House building till May 9 “for cleaning and disinfecting the building in order to minimise the potential risk of spreading Covid-19”.

Mr Qaiser has quarantined himself at his residence in native Swabi town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since he and some of his family members had tested positive for the virus.

After the meeting, FM Qureshi said the NA sittings would be held on alternate days for a limited duration and only to hold a discussion on the current situation due to spread of Covid-19 across the country and the steps taken by the government to fight the pandemic. The purpose of the debate would be to build a national consensus on the Covid-19 situation, he said.

Mr Qureshi expressed the hope that the government and the opposition would also agree on modalities for convening the budget session of the assembly, which is expected to be held soon after Eidul Fitr.

Quorum, question hour

Giving details of the government-opposition agreement, Mr Qureshi said there would be no question hour during the session. Similarly, he said call-attention notices and privilege and adjournment motions would also not be taken up during the session.

As far as the attendance of the members was concerned, the minister said the issue had been left on the parliamentary leaders of the parties as they would decide as to which member would attend the sitting on which day.

Mr Qureshi also disclosed that they had reached an understanding that quorum would not be pointed out during the sittings. Under the Constitution, the presence of one-fourth members (86 members) of the 342-member house is a must to carry out the business.

The foreign minister said the visitors’ galleries would remain closed during the sittings and only journalists would be allowed to sit in the press gallery. He said the Parliamentary Reporters Association, being the representative body of the parliamentary reporters, would decide the number of journalists to cover the assembly proceedings and it would prepare its own SOPs for the purpose.

A senior opposition leader who attended the meeting told Dawn that the upcoming session was expected to last only a week. He said the opposition had agreed not to point out quorum on the condition that the government would not move any important legislation that would require voting. He said they had clearly told the government that it would have to give a prior notice to the opposition members, if it wanted to do some legislation to provide ample time to the opposition to ensure presence of their members.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly Secretariat also issued a handout after the meeting of the committee, presided over by Minister for National Food Security and Research Fakhar Imam.

It says the committee has decided to recommend plying special flights from Karachi and Quetta to Islamabad for transportation of the members during the session. It has also been recommended that the parliamentarians and the staff of the secretariat would be tested for coronavirus ahead of the session.

It says that PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif during the committee meeting announced withdrawal of the requisition submitted by his party and its allies for summoning the session on the foreign minister’s assurance to summon the assembly session next week.

The speaker had constituted the special committee under former speaker Imam to propose amendments to the rules and procedures or the Constitution for allowing holding of the virtual session. But the PML-N rejected the idea of convening the virtual session of the assembly, terming it a “conspiracy” by the ruling party to make parliament redundant and non-functional.

Last week, the committee had finally ruled out the option of holding a virtual session of parliament in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and agreed that the government should convene a physical session of the assembly in a routine manner.

The parliamentary leaders who attended the meeting were of the opinion that parliament embodied the will of the people and, therefore, it should be made functional to continue its role of parliamentary oversight of the executive.

ISLAMABAD: Participants of an online discussion on Saturday likened the emerging controversy around the 18th Amendment to opening Pandora’s Box in order to undermine provincial autonomy.

The speakers said that whoever was behind the lobbying campaign against the 18th Amendment should not insult the collective national agreement reached by all the political, religious and nationalist parties who were in parliament at the time.

However, they said, changes may be made to develop and improve on the mechanisms of delivering social services and resources at the grassroots level and to strengthen local governments.

The discussion was organised by Devcom-Pakistan.

According to a statement, former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said that non-political elements were intentionally trying to develop choas through the government that would exacerbate the divide between the centre and the provinces.

Proponents of changing 18th Amendment have no idea what they want, senator says

“The state is not interested in the actual provincial autonomy given in the 18th Amendment. It is not the government behind the emerging move because it lacks political vision and brain on the essence of the 18th amendment.

“However, some pro-state elements are more interested to repeal or just rollback it to curb provincial autonomy; particularly they want to change the composition of National Finance Commission (NFC) award by cutting the share of the provinces. The consequences of fiddling with the most important part of the constitution would be disastrous for the national integrity,” he said.

Senator Rabbani said Pakistan was facing several dissenting elements when a fair NFC award was constituted under the 18th Amendment by taking all nationalists and dissenting elements on board.

Federalism won, resulting in more tranquility and harmony for political cohesion as 102 clauses of the Constitution were amended – including 58(2-B), which said it was the president’s prerogative to dissolve elected assemblies at will.

“Over the last 10 years, we have seen decline in the dissenting elements and the nationalists are taking part of the mainstream politics; democracy is taking its roots in the public, a democratic system is evolving, and some tolerance is emerging in the citizens.

“The government should convene regular meetings of the committee and the meetings of Council of Common Interests (CCI) that shall actually take place after every 90 days to review the progress on the common agenda of the centre and provinces,” he added.

Senator Sitara Ayaz said nothing could be said until the government something to the parliament in black-and-white. She said proponents of changing the amendment have no idea what they want.

“Seemingly it is an effort to drive out the attention of the masses from the present crises that government has failed to cope with. The centre has also failed to comply with its own obligations under the 18th Amendment. NFC award is the bone of contention while payments of royalties to the provinces are yet not on the agenda of the Islamabad. Some practical changes can be made in the amendment but cannot be reversed at all,” she said.

Parliamentarians have a strong relationship with the Constitution, Senator retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum said, adding that they could change any amendment at any time, but with rationale, consensus and an overwhelming two-thirds majority.

He said the Constitution is a living document and parliamentarians shall be open to good suggestions to make the Constitution more productive. If there are problems with the deliverance of the provinces, the lacunas should be identified and remedied instead of talking or taking any step against the historic effort that returned the 1973 Constitution close to its original, he said.

He added that he has suggested some amendments to the process of appointing members to the Election Commission of Pakistan to prevent delays and make the process more efficient, which are with the relevant committees for consideration.

While introducing the topic of discussion earlier, Devcom Director Munir Ahmed said the 18th Amendment was a historic decision of all the parties present in both houses of parliament in April 2020. It gave autonomy to the provinces and wiped off all the dictatorial changes to the Constitution, he said.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the two million or so Hindus living in the country will have a personal law to document marriages and separations. The ‘Hindu Marriage Bill 2017’ was passed by the Senate unanimously on Friday and is expected to be signed into a law by the president next week. The bill, which applies to Hindus in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had already been passed by the National Assembly in September 2015. Sindh, which houses the largest number of Hindus in the country, already has a personal law for the community. The bill’s approval by the Senate means that Hindu women will now be able to demonstrate proof of marriage, protecting them against forced conversions through marriage. In addition, the use of a document to be known as the Shadi Parath – similar to the Nikkah Nama for Muslims – which will be signed by a pundit, will be registered with the relevant government department, offering proof of the marital status of Hindus. Despite some minor contention from the Hindu community, the bill also carries a provision for the annulment of marriage if one of the partners changes their religion. Some fear was expressed that this could lead to kidnapped Hindu women being forced to say in court that they had changed their religion, ending their marriages to their Hindu husbands. On the whole, though, the bill is seen as a step forward for the minority. It will place on record marriage, separation and remarriage and impose a minimum age of 18 years for the marriage of both boys and girls. Senators from all sides of the political divide supported the bill, with some objection coming only from the JUI-F which contended the constitution already provided sufficient cover to minorities. The bill had previously been approved by the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights with a huge majority. Bringing Hindus into the cover of personal law marks important progress for them and recognises the rights of a community that has faced huge discrimination, the multiple abductions of girls over the past two decades serving as a glaring example of that. The new personal law could help protect them against this.

It was the government that formed the Fata reforms committee and touted its proposed merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and now it is the government which seems to be backing away from it. The last meeting of the federal cabinet had approval of the reforms package on its agenda but it was suddenly dropped without explanation. This led to a protest in the National Assembly from Fata MNAs from all parties, with Shahabuddin Khan of the PML-N tying a black gag around his mouth. This is a powerful symbol of the way the people of Fata have been treated not just through this process but throughout Pakistan’s history. The only people who were not represented in the reforms committee were the residents of Fata itself and it is they who should be allowed to decide on their future. Even though the reforms package was not devised by the people of Fata, it did at least propose merging the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bringing them under the protection of the constitution and gradually repealing the Frontier Crimes Regulation. The original plan called for the process to be carried out over a period of 10 years but opposition parties wanted it implemented before the 2018 elections. Now, with the cabinet slow-walking approval, its future is left in doubt. Part of the reason the government now seems hesitant to implement its own ideas is that it has met more opposition than expected, with the government’s own allies turning against it. Both the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the JUI-F have come out against the proposals, likely because they feel their power in KP might decline if Fata has its own influential political forces. But the representatives of Fata itself are determined that the merger go through. Fata parliamentarians held a convention in Islamabad earlier this week demanding both the merger of Fat and KP and the repeal of the FCR. Equally importantly, the convention called for compensation to be paid to those who have been affected by military operations in the area and for Fata to be made part of the National Finance Commission Award. Certainly, any merger will come with a new set of problems since Fata is less developed and will need special attention to be brought to par with the rest of the country. But the reason this disparity exists is because Fata has been ignored and treated as separate from the rest of the country since Independence. The government has promised Fata’s people that it would rectify that and failing to follow through would be a grave betrayal.

THE recent decision to reduce the powers of the federal ombudsman is a disturbing development. The government has prepared a bill with amendments to the legislation that created the office of the ombudsman. Under these, the federal ombudsman will be unable to set up regional offices, or allow the existing mechanism to fill a temporary vacancy should one arise. The bill effectively takes the powers of the federal ombudsman in the opposite direction from where they need to go. To today’s jaded and cynical public, the presence of a grievance officer in every government department might sound like a small step towards improving governance. But considering the volume of complaints that these officers get each day, the need for such a mechanism should be obvious. Just last year, for example, the ombudsman saw 94,000 complaints, which is an average of more than 310 per day excluding Sundays. At any time, the waiting room at the ombudsman’s office is filled with ordinary citizens with complaints about some government department or the other; eg whether a public-sector hospital or a power utility engaged in overbilling. Hearings are usually set up within a month of a complaint being filed. The hearings themselves usually don’t last for more than 20 minutes. How often does the beleaguered citizenry of this country get a chance to air a specific complaint against a government department with the opportunity to present its case before an officer from that department, with a finding arrived at and specific directions given in less than an hour? Such a mechanism is badly needed, and instead of looking for ways to curtail it, the government should be searching for methods to expand its reach and powers. There is a dire need for alternate dispute resolution mechanisms in this country. The caseload before the courts is already too large, and many of the complaints that are brought before the ombudsman need not turn into a legal dispute. Such a mechanism should be introduced in the rural areas too, and extended down to the district and union council level. Additionally, there is the office of the banking ombudsman that badly needs some vitality injected into it so that it can make a more conscious effort to look out for the interest of consumers, particularly with the rollout of plans for greater financial inclusion. Grievance officers play an essential part in ensuring that governance remains on track and focused on delivering for the common man. It is understandable that some government officers or political leaders will see this function as a nuisance, but that opinion is irrelevant. Keeping their minds focused on delivering for the common citizenry is the task at hand. The government should draft a different bill for the ombudsman’s office, one that seeks to expand its reach and powers rather than curtailing them.

Studies suggest that the word ‘Census’ is derived from Latin word ‘Censere’ which means ‘To Estimate’. The word estimate is often used to determine quantity. In ancient periods when invasions and war were common and there were no particular forces for wars, a census was taken to ascertain how much manpower was fit or available for warfare. A few kings conducted it for revenue generations or tax collection as well. The history of conducting census is primordial and vast. China, Egypt, Medieval Europe and Greece also preserved ancient records. Since our ancestors realised the importance of the census it has become an important operation all over the world. Almost all countries of the world conduct census on decennial basis. It has become necessity in the world of competitions. Census in modern world isn’t limited to two the aforesaid purposes only. In modern nation-states people started using the census to gauge population of rural and urban settlements, to ascertain the number of voters in a particular constituency, for thr availability of health and education facilities, to know the percentage of ethnicity or religious populations etc. The census can also be helpful in improving socio-economic conditions by providing employment opportunities in accordance with availability of manpower. It can be beneficial in improving law and order situations as better calculations lead to better distribution of facilities. Whit better facilities chances of people being involved crime cane be reduced to a greater extent. There is a very famous quote by Peter Ducker, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. Many other management thinkers opine the same. Census can be called a “Complete Health Report” of the national socio-economic body and can generate detailed check-ups to diagnosis real socio-economic suffering even at grassroots levels. Thus it provides opportunities to the country’s administration to cure these sufferings by making stringent efforts and good governance. In the scenario when the government isn’t even aware the actual population growth rate it would be difficult for it to run state machinery for the welfare of common man and claim good governance. Pakistan emerged as an independent state on the world map on 14 August 1947. To make this happen Muslims of the sub-continent rendered great sacrifices under the leadership of Quaid-e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. When this newly born country reached the age of four years it organised it’s first ever census in the year 1951 to enumerate the people living in the country after independence. According to the results the country had a population of 75 million people. This included the population of both East and West Pakistan. In 1951 not only Pakistan but India, also conducted it’s first census. Since than India has been conducting the census after every ten years and it’s has conducted 7 censuses up till now. On the contrary Pakistan has conducted only 5 censuses during the same period. The country has been waiting for the 6th national census since last decade. The United States of America is also on the list of the countries who conduct census after every decennial. If we look at history we would see that this is not unprecedented that our country is witnessing a delay in organising the census. A delay happened for the first time in 1971. The country’s third census was delayed by one year due to the Indo-Pak War and political instabilities. 1971 brought major political and geographical setbacks. The fifth census was due in the country in 1991 but it was held in 1998 amid political instabilities and law and order situations. Pakistan witnessed three general elections during the time period of 1990 and 1996 which ultimately resulted in a delayed census. In 1998 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif organised the fifth national census. Now again it is Nawaz Sharif’s government and the government is all set to hold the census in March 2017 as per the verdict given by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. If this happens Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be first leader to organise two consecutive censuses as Prime Minister. I still remember the slogan which I had heard in 1998, “Murdum shummari khana shumari hum sub ki koumi zimadari”, though I was too young at that time to realise the importance of the census. I remember how patiently my father and our neighbourhoods filled the forms provided by the census team. This nation has been waiting since 2008 to fill census and fulfil its national responsibility. The sixth national census was due in 2008 but it was postponed till 2010. It is pertinent to mention here that in 2008 the country witnessed general elections and the political leaders made alliance to send President General (r) Pervaiz Musharaf out of President House. Later, political uncertainties, a worsening law and order situation and natural disasters caused delay after delay. A civilian government came and went without a census. After the 2013 elections Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister for the third time and also the first to hold this portfolio thrice. After assuming the offices the PML-N government inked the historical agreement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in 2015. Since than PML-N ‘s politics have been spinning around this agreement. The PML-N is about to complete four years of its tenure and is only left with a few months to handover this setup to a caretaker government before general election in 2018. The incumbent Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had allocated Rs 14.5 millions in the federal budget 2015-16 for the sixth national census which was earlier scheduled for the year 2016. This time it seems like that nation’s wait is about to be over after the Supreme Court’s verdict for March 2017. The Council of Common Interest (CII) has consented and preparations are under way for a housing and population census. The military will be providing security for the field teams of census along with other law and enforcement agencies. If the census happens it would it will bring revolutionary changes in the political atmosphere and impact the general election in 2018. But it will also bring the record of holding two consecutive census to the lap of Nawaz Sharif.

The people of Pakistan continue to be denied information about governance, administration, the working of the public sector and other knowledge that could be of significance to them. While the Right to Information passed in 2014 by the Senate Standing Committee on Information had been applauded by international and local organisations for opening up information to the public, a new version of this bill approved by the cabinet this year effectively closes the doors that had been opened. In this sense, the law is no better than a similar piece of legislation passed under Pervez Musharraf in 2002. Just as that law did, this one too effectively promotes the lack of transparency by laying down lists which define what is and is not on ‘public record’, and then suggesting that in the public interest the government can exclude any other record from public information as well. Public interest is an extremely dangerous term. It has been misused for decades in our country, to withhold information from people, make legal decisions and carry out other measures that have effectively damaged the nation and citizens. This law does just the same. Whereas the draft law drawn up by the Senate committee had been rated as one of the best pieces of legislation in the world by organisations such as the Canada-based CLD which gave it 147 points out of 150, the same organisation has given a mere 97 points to the law now approved by the cabinet. The Islamabad based Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives has been as scathing in its opinion on the legislation, giving it only 86 marks out of 150 compared to 145 for the Senate bill. It should be noted that both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have put in place excellent legislation that clearly defines the narrow areas that are exempt from being made public, but make the others open to anyone requesting information on them. This lack of transparency and desire to hide matters of government has been a defining feature of the manner in which our state has been run virtually since its inception. It is of course not just the media that suffers as a result but all citizens. Crucial information, which could have huge implications on health, environment, and other spheres and could also help check corruption at all levels, is kept hidden from the public. As anyone who has attempted to eke out information from government departments will testify, gaining access even to data which is entirely innocuous can be extremely arduous. The 2002 law in many ways made it harder to gain access to information. This attempt to control the flow of information continues and as a result leaves us all handicapped in so many different ways

ALTHOUGH Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2011, there is yet no parliamentary act to remove barriers to their accessing and participating in the workforce other than the Disabled Persons (Employment & Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981. The ordinance stipulated a 1pc (later raised to 2pc) quota of public-sector jobs reserved for persons with disabilities (PWDs). The quota also applies to any private establishment, whether industrial or commercial, that employs 100 or more workers. Failure to honour the quota would result in a fine, which would go towards the Disabled Persons Rehabilitation Fund, established by the ordinance. Although the 1981 ordinance has been helpful to some extent, weak implementation and a failure to redress discrimination against PWDs renders it largely ineffective. Besides this, the rules of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) Ordinance, 1977 were amended in 2005, allowing PWDs to com­­pete in CSS examinations for the first time. Rule 9 of the rules for the 2014 CSS exams, framed by FPSC, makes allowances for reasonable accommodations. Blind persons, for example, can sit for the exams using a computer, Braille and/or with the assistance of an amanuensis. However, Rule 9 is discriminatory in nature as it allows PWDs to take part in CSS exams but successful candidates can only join four occupational groups: the audit and accounts service, and the commerce and trade, information and postal groups. Discrimination on the basis of disability must end. Moreover, while PWDs can only join the foreign service if they are selected on merit (which constitutes only 7.5pc of all selected candidates), this restriction does not apply to other candidates. Last year, Faisal Majeed and Muhammad Yousef, two blind persons who achieved 12th and 22nd positions respectively, were placed in the information group along with those who did not do as well on the merit list — just because they happen to be blind. Exclusive restrictions on blind candidates resulted in others (who performed worse) joining the foreign service instead, on a quota for candidates from Punjab. This discrimination is mind-boggling considering that the candidates were assessed on the same exams and interviews as the rest, but nonetheless cannot join groups they otherwise qualify and fulfil all the requirements for. The Establishment Division decided on its own that PWDs are fit to serve only in certain groups, without any consultation with PWDs. There seems to be no basis for why PWDs can work in some groups or services, but not, for example, in the administrative, police, customs or income tax services. Take the police service. Other than field postings, there are many positions that require officers to develop policies and conduct background research. The same is the case for other services. With the advent of assistive technologies, people with vision impairment can read and write on their own, access the internet, and convert a hard copy into a readable document on the computer. In such a scenario, not only was there no justification for barring successful blind candidates from joining certain groups, it was a sheer violation of their constitutional right of seeking gainful employment on an equal basis with others. Once the administrative and police services excluded successful, qualified candidates on the basis of gender. Now, they are being restrictive on the basis of disability. Rule 9 of the FPSC ordinance is in conflict with Article 27 of the CRPD, which pertains to the promotion and realisation of PWDs’ right to work. Article 27 declares that state parties should take effective steps to ensure that PWDs are not discriminated against during “recruitment, hiring and employment, continuance of employment, career advancement and safe and healthy working conditions”. It not only requires state parties to employ PWDs in the public sector, but also to promote opportunities in the private sector through affirmative action and employment incentives. Article 27 also requires state parties to ensure that reasonable workplace accommodations are provided to PWDs. The Establishment Division and FPSC need to revise Rule 9 in consultation with PWDs, disability groups and advocates to ensure that successful candidates can join the civil service on an equal basis with others. Furthermore, instead of piecemeal legislation, there is need for comprehensive federal legislation to protect all rights (including employment rights) of PWDs, which includes an effective oversight body to ensure its implementation. Given the 18th Amendment, the provinces must then use this as a template for passing their own disability rights legislation. Additionally, private-sector employment for PWDs must be tapped into. The Disabled Persons Rehabilitation Fund, which was neglected owing to weak implementation mechanisms, must also be addressed through this new legislation. The writer is an author and rights activist.

In Pakistan, Persons with Disabilities still have difficulty exercising their civil and political rights, attending quality schools, and nding gainful employment, among other activities. As such, they face exclusion as productive members of the society, leading to economic losses worth $11.9 billion to $15.4 billion, or 4.9% to 6.3% of Pakistan’s GDP, reveals data shared by HelpAge Pakistan on the occasion of International Day of Persons With Disabilities. Surveys conducted by non-governmental organizations including by World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that over 15 per cent of people in the general population in Pakistan have some form of disability. Ageing is also associated with a higher probability of living with a disability. Half of the population of older people in Pakistan, which is one of the 15 countries with over a 10 million population of older people, suffers from moderate to severe disability. The Ageing and Disability Task Force (ADTF), which is a network of 11 national and international organizations in Pakistan advocating for the rights of Persons with Disabilities and older people since 2010, has urged relevant government ministries and departments, and national and international humanitarian organizations to make their interventions inclusive of older people and Persons with Disabilities. “The government of Pakistan, especially the National Disaster Management Authority, has taken a few positive steps towards inclusive humanitarian response and disaster risk reduction by formulating policy guidelines on vulnerable groups. ADTF would urge all organizations working in humanitarian response and disaster risk reduction to implement these national guidelines on vulnerable groups in compliance with Article 11 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD),” an ADTF official stated. While the government of Pakistan is currently supporting people from FATA return to their homes, it is a human right imperative for the government and non-government humanitarian organizations to ensure a dignified return and resettlement for Persons with Disabilities. ADTF has also called upon relevant government authorities to ensure that what is promised is delivered in an inclusive way to address the challenges of Persons with Disabilities and ageing population. Pakistan did make early attempts (in the 1980s) aimed at promoting inclusion of Persons with Disabilities through the introduction of education and employment policies, setting up special schools for persons with disabilities, and mandating businesses to employ persons with disabilities through a quota-based system and levies. Although these were celebrated achievements, they proved to be ineffective as is reflected in the continued exclusion of Persons With Disabilities in practically every sphere of life. They face barriers to participation in society, such as access to healthcare facilities, education, information and communication, transportation services, employment opportunities as well as development and humanitarian programmes and funds. Persons with Disabilities also face enhanced risk to the effects of climate change, such as natural disasters and food insecurity; they are also more vulnerable in situations of conflict. In the past decade, Pakistan unfortunately has continuously faced both natural and complex humanitarian situations. Globally, and in Pakistan, policy approaches to disability have largely focused on rehabilitation, welfare handouts and related charity. This has been changing since UNCRPD, which became operational in 2008. The UNCRPD sets out the rights of persons of all ages with disabilities. Article 11 of UNCRPD specifically asks for the protection of Persons with Disabilities in situations of natural and man-made disasters. The inclusion of disability in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mainly goals 4, 10 and 17, is a cause for hope for People with Disabilities and ageing population. The government of Pakistan too is committed to achieving the SDGs; however, it needs to pay specific attention to protecting the rights of Persons With Disabilities. More than 1 billion people around the world are living with some form of disability; this number constitutes 15 to 20% of the world’s total population. Eighty percent of these people live in developing countries and face a greater risk of living in poverty and exclusion. Worldwide, more than 46% people aged 60 years and over live with visible or invisible disabilities. More than 250 million older people experience moderate to severe disability.

THERE is no shortage of detractors of civil servants in this country and around the world. An English poet once described them as civil to all, and servants to the devil. They take most of the blame for society’s corruption, for its lack of development, inefficiency and many organisational failures. If their slanderers are many, no less are the wise men who offer advice on reform. Such wise men mostly populate multinational agencies. Bees gather nectar from many flowers; they flash their global experience. But their advice has not made any country richer. The premise — to think of reforming civil service in isolation — is flawed. MNA Capt Muhammad Safdar (retired) publicly accused the prime minister’s personal secretary at no less a forum than the National Assembly. This raised eyebrows for two reasons. One, the accuser was the prime minister’s son-in-law. Two, the accused was allegedly involved in favouritism, playing with the careers of government officers, many who have been in service for up to 30 years. If true, then for what purpose? To indulge personal whims as powerful men tend to do? Nothing is more important to government servants than to rise to the top towards the latter years of their career. For this stage, good civil servants will forgo fatal temptations and toil profusely. Bureaucracy can’t be reformed without reforming government too. For more than a decade, the honourable MNA must have been privy to many important pronouncements. Give him credit for starting to speak up. One hopes that he keeps the course. The man who hears all must have heard what he said. Did anything move? Was the matter looked into and were any promotions that may have been made on the basis of favouritism reversed? Were all deserving officers elevated and the sycophants dropped? Did any heads roll? Did the National Assembly, guardian of the nation’s whatnots, take notice? Business goes on as usual. This is not the first time that such an allegation has been made about a powerful bureaucrat sitting next to the seat of power. For instance, there were similar allegations against Tariq Aziz under Pervez Musharraf. It is the government that manipulates the bureaucrats — the bad ones just take advantage of the type of government in power. Lord Bancroft, head of the British civil service, said: “Conviction politicians, certainly; conviction civil servants, no.” Civil service is like a machine. It depends on how the government makes use of it. The first government in Pakistan to tamper with this machine was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s. To this day, succeeding administrations have been doing what Bhutto had started. No one can reform the civil service unless you reform the government. What is government? Section 90(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan defines the federal government as: “Subject to the Constitution, the executive authority of the Federation shall be exercised in the name of the President by the Federal Government, consisting of the Prime Minister and the Federal Ministers, which shall act through the Prime Minister, who shall be the chief executive of the Federation.” If the government is not functioning as it should be, it is these two dozen or so people who are to be blamed. Reform this small category or let them reform themselves; no civil servant dare refuse to follow suit. Improving the technical capabilities of civil servants is the easy part. Many people put the burden of bad governments on the shoulders of civil servants — more than it is fair to do. They expect every one of them to simply defy wrong orders. That is too much to expect be­­cause, in this imperfect world, collaborators are always present. What happens in such situations is that the really bad ones take over. The wilful ministers lose nothing. There are shining examples of conscientious Pakistani civil servants who put their heads on the block. But it is they and their families who suffer, the system did not change. Place the blame where it belongs — on the government. Reforming the state is more arduous. Neither the Constitution nor political scientists can clearly define the state. It is the most opaque term in political vocabulary. The state means, essentially, the entire fixed political system, the setting up of authoritative and legitimately powerful roles through which we are finally controlled. Thus, the police, army, civil service and judiciary are aspects of the state, as is parliament and local authorities. Reforming the state is like drawing a knife through a bowl of marbles. But until government is reformed, civil servants will continue to say, “Yes, Minister! No, Minister! As you say, Minister!” The writer is a former civil servant and minister. raufkkhattak@gmail.com

ISLAMABAD: In an encouraging sign for democracy in Pakistan, 66% of the respondents of a survey had a favourable opinion about the quality of democracy in the country, whereas 64% believe that democratically elected governments are the best system for Pakistan.

SUKKUR: The returning officers began scrutiny of nomination papers for the local bodies’ elections in Sindh. According to sources at the Election Commission offices, 2,121 nomination papers were submitted in Larkana, 2,397 in Sukkur, 1,560 in Shikarpur, 1,053 in Jacobabad, 2,115 in Kandhkot, 2,001 In Qambar-Shahdadkot and 2,738 in Khairpur.