The News International: PK: Thursday, March 02, 2017.
"Right to Information (RTI) is the foundation of transparency in governance; its implementation at district level will proactively promote ownership of the system by all people and ensure accountability of government officials."
“Local government is all community driven; the informal institutions of voluntarism like civil defence and scouts need to be revived. One of the major challenges is that we have to build ownership of this system among people. It is a challenge because the problem is that local government historically has been associated with military dictatorships. Democracies somehow have shied away from it whereas this is the basic building block on which the entire democracy stands and the foundation of this building block is transparency.
This was shared as the basic principles of governance by the recently elected young District Council Chairman Narowal Ahmed Iqbal Chaudhry, as he sat down for an interview with The News.
This interview was significant because this thirty-something young public representative possesses a unique characteristic that not many in our political system do. Ahmed has actually studied Local Government and Public Finance as his focus area at the University of Pennsylvania during his Masters in Public Administration, before he applied for the job – ran for the office of Chairman District Council. He has also worked with The World Bank as a consultant on Urban Transport after completing his studies. Following his unopposed victory in the local government, now he is busy using all his education and experience abroad in Narowal putting into effect the concept of “Think Global – Act Local” in the district of Narowal.
Talking about the concerns regarding the local government system being spineless, he said, ‘The system being broken is the excuse of those who consider being a public representative a position of power and privilege. In contrast, it’s a position of immense responsibility, tougher than any other job where you have to work day and night and there are no holidays.’ I would, however, lobby for the district council chairman to be made ex-officio chairman of the District Health and Education Authorities so that we could have some sort of say even if at the policy and strategy level if not at financial level, he added.
One of the key lessons I've learned through my education regarding local government and public finance is that innovating solutions while staying within the system is the actual policy challenge that most people are not willing to take on. Mostly because it involves exhaustive work. That is something I want to prove and by doing so, hopefully make Narowal a model district, he said. When asked as to what his targets for the first 12 months would be, he said, ‘I think the initial year, we’ll need to set a direction, that would be signalling and messaging that what kind of government would we want to run in District Narowal. It’s clear that transparency would be at the heart of that. For which RTI at district level is the best way to maintain transparency. The district government should make public all information from the tendering process, to every invoice and every receipt, we might even develop a proactive approach of putting all this over a Website.”, he said. Talking further about his priorities he said, "I’m keen on setting up a system for public policy to dictate distribution of resources, I understand that politics plays a major role by the end of the day, but I want that by the side of politics we could involve public policy expertise. There should be a tangible matrix based on public need to guide investment where its impact is maximum.”
Would you believe that the government spends Rs400 million every month in salaries of Narowal alone. Around 71 percent of this goes to education, eight percent to health and five to agriculture. Around Rs284 million is being spent on education and yet, the people prefer getting their children enrolled in a private school. That is a disturbing fact which has made me setting this right one of my major priorities. While most governments have been too focused on urban development; our suburbs, towns, townships, and villages have developed by themselves but in a haphazard manner. As a country we will now need to take municipal services, like waste collection & management, sanitation to the village level because there has been very rapid growth. Townships have become towns, villages have grown to be townships and all new development has been like urban development except that for municipal services.
This is resulting in waterborne diseases and setting up groundwork for unplanned, tough to manage cities of the future. Although a huge cricket fan himself, Ahmed Iqbal, was wary of all investment focus being drawn to a single sport. "Kabaddi is still the most popular sport in the most populous province of the country. It draws around 100 times larger crowds than cricket. I believe that setting up a National Kabaddi League would be a great initiative and I'll try to help the cause as much as I can", he said.