The Autonomy Order of 2009 bestowed seventeen fundamental rights to citizens of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). This could be regarded as a step forward towards attaining full rights as citizens of Pakistan. Was this window of opportunity fully utilized? Peer Muhammad has scrutinized the performance of the GB Legislative Assembly.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) is into the fifth and last year of its formation. The GBLA was given this name, after the area was given a special status of semi-province in 2009 by the PPP government. It is going to complete its five years term this year, with numerous weakness and a few strengths. At present, a great debate is all around in Gilgit-Baltisan as to when and how the existing GBLA is to be dissolved and when the fresh polls to be held in the area. The existing assembly completes its tenure in October this year and as per the Gilgit-Baltistan Governance and Self-Rule Order-2009, the elections are required to be held within two months of the completion of the period or it can be held prior to completion by dissolving it. The dominant opinion of general public and the political parties as well of the local administration is that the assembly be dissolved in July to pave way for holding new elections by the end of September or early October. The logic of this notion is that October is an ideal time for holding elections across GB, as weather conditions with freezing temperatures make any election related activity impossible from November up till March. Some leading members including Chief Minister himself wants the assembly to complete its tenure. At the same time some PPP sitting assembly members and ministers are also in the favor of holding early elections by dissolving it as it has been a tradition for elections in GB to be held in October and November in the past.
However, the ball is now in the court of the Chief Minister of GB, whose willingness and subsequently advice to dissolve the assembly will be final. The governor can only dissolve it only on the advice of the chief minister and in such a situation, elections could be held during the ideal time.
At the same time, the GB Governance and Self-Rule Order 2009 is
silent about a delay in holding the elections more than two months after the completion of the assembly’s term. If the assembly completes its tenure in October and elections are held in January after the two month interval as per the GB Governance Order, most people could be deprived of their democratic right to choose their representatives due to the harsh weather condition. These are the legal and constitutional complications that must be addressed.
The GB assembly came into being in November 2009 under The Gilgit-Baltistan Governance and Self-Rule Order 2009, a comparatively improved constitutional package granted by the PPP government to GB. This was aimed at giving some additional financial and administrative powers to the elected representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan. Under this reform package, the federal government for the first time created slots for the Chief Minister and the Governor in GB, which never existed in the previous setup. Following this package, the administrative role and influence on GB by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan (KAGA) has been curtailed to some extent. However, the pseudo-province still lacks the political, constitutional and administrative and financial powers enjoyed by the other four provinces of the country, in addition to depriving the area from the representation in National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan. Despite this, the chief minister and cabinet members exercised more administrative and financial powers than exercised ever before by any predecessors. It can be considered a step forward towards political and constitutional empowerment rather a destination for the people of GB.
It is a general impression that despite receiving additional powers and autonomy, the Chief Minister and its team failed to deliver during their whole tenure both in the term of civic services and legislative business. The provincial assembly’s inability to hold the local government elections during the four years of its tenure and to leave the people at the mercy of the powerful bureaucracy for resolving even tiny issues assembly is considered its biggest failure. The second important drawback of the assembly was its failure to make comprehensive legislation on various issues being face by the area people. The role of the legislative assembly remained no more than a debating club on a number of issues without focusing on the particular concerns of the public. According to the GBLA records, the Assembly was able to pass only 27 legislative Bills during the last four years. Interestingly, out of them, sevens Bills (around 25 per cent of the total legislation business) were related to the personal interest and welfare of the parliamentarians about their salaries and privileges. These Bills include Salary, Allowance & Privileges of Speaker GBLA Act; Salary, Allowances and Privileges of Deputy Speaker GBLA Act; Salary, Allowance and Privileges of Chief Minister and Ministers Gilgit-Baltistan Act; Salary Allowances & Privileges of Members GBLA Act; Gilgit-Baltistan Parliamentary Secretaries (Salary Allowances and Privilege) Act-2011; GBLA Speaker Salary, Allowance & Privilege Amendment Act, 2011 and GBLA Deputy Speaker Salary, Allowances & Privilege Amendment Act-2011.
The more interesting thing was that out of the total 27 Bills, only two legislative Bills pertaining to basic human rights were passed The GB Protection against Harassment of Women Act 2013 and GB Child Protection Act 2013. Despite prevailing countless issues related to the fundamental human rights, the GBLA did not bother to work on this area.
The fundamental reason what the speaker Gilgit-Batlistan Legislative Assembly described for its failure to make maximum legislation was that the assembly does not have any separate and equipped law and justice division to prepare draft of the legislations.
Speaker Legislative Assembly Mr Wazir Baig said that unlike other legislative assemblies, there is no independent law division with competent and efficient draftsmen and required equipment to prepare legislative drafts as available in other legislative assemblies. This was the reason why the assembly rather preparing its own draft bills, has to depend on the draft bills of other assemblies of country by slightly changing their titles and some other basic necessary amendments and are replicated them. The reason of not having the independent law and justice division in the assembly is because of resources with the assembly. Chief Minister and its political team never bother to strengthen the democratic institutions and political process by concentrating and allocating more resources to these areas, which would have long lasting repercussion on the democratic norms in the area.
It has also been noticed that members, particularly the chief minister and cabinet members often remained absent from the area and spend their times in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.