Civil Society demands concrete steps for democratic inclusion of Persons with Disabilities

QUETTA: Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) organized a seminar here in Quetta on electoral and political rights of persons with disabilities. The stakeholders discussed in detail the issues surrounding disability and inclusion of PWDs.

Mohammad Asif Provincial Coordinator CPDI started the session by recitation of Holly Quran, he welcome the participants the handed over the floor to Mr. Raja Shoaib Akbar, Senior Program Manager CPDI, he shared the status of legal structure supporting inclusion of PWDs and also discussed the legal and administrative reforms required for achieving mainstreaming of PWDs. He also stressed on the need to address the disability issues with rights and obligations approach instead of routine charity model.

Organization for Special Talent (HOST), Founder of Quetta Online and a Disable activist Mr. Zia Khan, Advocate and PWDs legislator Mrs. Qamaurnisa, Assistant Director NADRA Mr. Abdul Manan Achakzai, Regional Election Commissioner Mr. Mohammad Fayaz and other disability organizations and stake holders stated that the disabled people were facing lot of difficulties in obtaining the disability certificate and special National Identity Card. They also stated that the political parties and the government functionaries must make sure participation of PWDS representatives in decision making so that their inclusion on the process is ensured. The NADRA representative and Election Commission official gave their views on the matter and ensured that both institutions were determined to support the PWDs more effectively to participate in electoral process of Pakistan.

The Secretary Social Welfare Mr. Abdul Rauf Baloch explained that the social welfare department was playing its role in providing services to the PWDs. He also shared that the department was doing its utmost to simplify the procedure for obtaining disability certificate.

Mr. Subhan Ali President Blind Association and Mr. Samiullah President Hamdared e Mazoran said that there was great gap that required to be filled urgently. The government must take concrete steps for welfare of PWDs including and improve legal infrastructure to ensure participation of PWDs in electoral process. This could be initiated by making it mandatory for the political parties through law to establish and maintain disability wings and fix a reasonable percentage to PWDs in special quota seats and general seats as well.

Mrs. Bushra Rind and government and CM spokesperson speaking on behalf of the government said government was doing its utmost to improve the plight of the PWDs and government was also aware of the need to strengthen efforts for mainstreaming of PWDs, she showed keen interest in reforming the PWDs rights not only in elections but in other departments as well.

The chief guest Mrs. Bushra Rind appreciated the efforts of CPDI for organizing this seminar and said that a number of mainstreaming initiatives were under way. She promised that the issued raised in the seminar will not be forgotten and he would discuss them with the chief minister for further improvements.

Published in The Balochistan Point

Detailed Revenue Budget Demanded

Islamabad April 25, 2019: Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has demanded the Federal Government to develop a detailed revenue budget and present it in the Parliament for greater transparency and to facilitate more efficient expenditure planning and parliamentary oversight.

In its letters to the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Minister of State for Revenue, CPDI has noted that the annual budget presented by the Federal Government in the Parliament each year includes details about current and development expenditures, but very limited information is shared about revenue collection estimates, relevant assumptions and targets for each month, sector, region, district and lower zones or areas of responsibility. This effectively means little transparency and inadequate planning, which makes it hard for legislators, media and civil society to scrutinize the justification of set targets and then track performance against targets for each month, sector, region and district or lower tiers. It also makes it challenging to efficiently plan expenditures and scrutinize performance against targets in the parliament or other forums.

CPDI has demanded that the FBR should be required to develop a detailed revenue budget, which should provide, among others, full details about assumptions for revenue targets in relation to different types of taxes; objectives of various tax measures (e.g. to raise revenue or incentivize certain sectors, etc.); overall revenue targets including for different types of taxes; sector-wise revenue targets; province-, region- and district-wise revenue targets; ongoing tax measures; new tax measures; sectors or regions that remain exempt from one or the other type of tax, and the reasons thereof; and assessment of impact of ongoing and new tax measures on relevant sector of economy.

It has further demanded that the proposed revenue budget should be presented in the Parliament as a part of the annual budget, and then FBR should be required to submit quarterly performance reports in relation to each tax, province, region and district in the Parliament.

No participation of stakeholders in District-level Budget Consultation weakens democratic process in Balochistan

In order to strengthen democracy, it is very essential to introduce and empower it at grass root level. The smallest unit of democracy is union council. Later councilors perform at district level. Democracy progresses with community participation and develops sense of ownership in general masses for local and national initiatives. Democracy takes deep roots, if the system is owned by people. District level budget consultation is one of the key functions for community development and ownership in democratic process to ensure transparency in governance.

When it comes to budget making process at district level it has been observed that the stakeholders are not consulted in the process. It has been experienced that most of the stakeholders are not included in the budget making process. The Balochistan District Government and Tehsil Administration (Budget) Rules, which provide the detail of the steps involved in the preparation of annual budget, are not followed.

The pre-budget consultation, which is supposed to involve district officials, district council members, elected representatives, general public, civil society organizations and women organizations. However, some of the key stake holders such as general public, civil society organizations, women organizations and local NGOs are not consulted in budget making process in most districts.

Budget making is one of the chief government undertakings, which can be addressed positively by the public participation. However, People in general lack opportunities to contribute in the budget process.

Balochistan District Government and Tehsil Administration (Budget) Rules, 2016 asks inclusion of local Non-government organizations in the preparation of annual budget. However, Khalil Ronja, representative of Welfare Association for New Generation (WANG) at district Lasbella, told Balochistan Review, “We neither experience participation in any consultation at district or tehsil level nor we have any idea about budget making process where local NGOs are named as stakeholders. We cannot recall a single instance when local district administration, civil society members or people from non-profit organizations were been part of consultation.”

A study conducted by Centre for Peace and development Initiatives (CPDI) a country based non-profit organization reveals that most of the stakeholders are not included in the budget making process in Balochistan. According study 18 out of 20 districts claimed to hold pre budget consultation for budget 2017-2018, however, they involved district officials, district council members and elected representatives but as per set rules they did not involve general public and the stake holders in budget making process.

Pre-budget consultations are great opportunities for local councilors to share their opinions or the requirements about development and non-development schemes in their areas but a general councilor Asghar Chutta at district Labella shared his grievances that they were hardly consulted for pre-budget consultations.

Asghar Chuta told Balochistan Review, “The entire process of local government depends on elected councilors and without their participation the system cannot run but when it comes to district level budget consultation they are ignored and only the finalized budget is shared with them.”

“Mostly the budget consultation has a huge influence of favoritism due to which the local representatives in local governments are not treated equally.” Asghar said.

Rakhshinda, a Gwadar based Female NGO volunteer told Balochistan Review, “Women organizations are always ignored in local government budget consultation. They mostly involve district officials, district council members and elected representatives but as per rules they directly do not engage women organizations, civil society members, public and the other stake holders in budget making process.”

Citizens’ budget is an essential paper issued for the public so as to let them understand the budget in jargon-free and easy to understand language but flaws are also found in the system.

Asia Baloch a civil society member told Balochistan Review, “Citizen budget is hardly shared with the public members which proves poor transparency and sharing of information. As per rules the local government should public budget in simple language for the citizens. Even budget call letters (BCL) are not issued on time.”

Regarding the matter Khalil Ronja explained, “People have no access to information related to district budget. No one has idea about the citizen budget, and public lacks information about its allocated budget and its utilization. Since there is no mechanism to make public aware about such important process.”

Poor transparency and sharing of the information with public was also observed in all the 20 districts which have been part of the CPDI’s Citizen Budget Accountability study. It has also been disclosed that none of the 20 districts has functional web sites for sharing information with public.

It has been observed that local decisions are not made locally by the district government, however, there is great influence of provincial government in decision making at district in local government thus no true spirit of devolution is felt and districts are not powerful enough in deciding about their budgets.

Syed Fazal Rehman Shah, Tehsil Chairman Kalat, however, terms district councils weak and not empowered enough to strengthen participation of stakeholders, and work on lack of funds   and other confrontations.

Talking to the Balochistan Review he explained, “Control over the budget making was handed to provincial government after 2010 by introducing Divisional Coordination Committee that is liable to approve the district budgets. This step further weakened the district level government. Hence, these local government can only be empowered again by handing them total control over their budget processing.”

Emphasizing on another technical issue Syed Fazal Rehman Shah told Balochistan Review, “We also face difficulties in technical grounds since hardly we can find some 3 or 4 percent technical staff members who are well skilled in budget making.  Most of the Engineers and Chief Officers are unable to produce justified proposals or PC1. There is need to train the staff on technical matters.”

Involvement and participation of stakeholders as per rules is a better way to strengthen democracy on local level no participation of stakeholders in district level Budget consultation and other participation weakens democratic process in Balochistan.

Mohammad Asif, Provincial Coordinator- Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) in Balochistan talking to Balochistan Review emphasized on the formulation of new budget rules, adherence to the budget calendar, transparency and citizens’ participation in the budget making process at district level in Baluchistan.

Mohammad Asif who has been leading awareness programs on district level budget consultation stressed on a greater need for involving citizens and citizens’ associations during every stage of budget making process. “Citizens are the important stakeholder in the budget process. All development planning should be made keeping citizens in forefront. There is no harm of involving them in the budget making process and taking their opinion about their development needs.” he added.

“There is great demand that district government perform better to ensure transparency so a functional website of district government is the easiest and cheapest way to share information with the public. unfortunately, in Balochistan none of the districts have functional websites,” suggested CPDI coordinator.

Published in The Balochistan Point 

Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights fails to gain govt attention

ISLAMABAD: When Imran Khan, the opposition leader, would say that people did not pay tax because of their mistrust on the government, an advisory committee of eminent experts, constituted by Federal Tax Ombudsman, was busy in preparing a report to diagnose the problem and subsequent solutions.

Among other prescriptions, it drafted Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TBR) to inspire their confidence on the government. The report was furnished and uploaded on the FTO website by Dr Shoaib Suddle, then FTO, left the office and report is still there without getting due attention. Instead, the previous government formed a Tax Reform Commission but its recommendations were not implemented either.

As PTI government took charge amid high hopes, the revenue collection dipped further touching even a historic low and it suggested Imran Khan was unable to regain the confidence of taxpayers. Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, who was part of the advisory committee, drafted TBR to invite attention of the government on the bill of rights.

Founder of Center for Peace and Development Initiatives, Mukhtar is a prominent transparency rights activist. He has served as information commissioner of Punjab RTI Commission.

In the beginning of this month, he wrote letters to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Finance Minister Asad Umar, State Minister for Finance Hammad Azhar and Chairmen of Standing Committees on Finance in Senate and National Assembly both. None of them has replied so far. A reading of TBR suggests its implementation will not only inspire the confidence of taxpayers, it will also be a great step forward towards changing the mindset of tax administration.

Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights has been designed with a purpose to provide best quality services by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities; ensuring the government frame and practice tax laws and policies with integrity and fairness.

The proposed bill of rights grants nine rights to a taxpayer: right to information and assistance; right to privacy and confidentiality; right to professional, fair and courteous services; right to representation and be heard; right to fair and just tax system; right to timely and remedial actions; right to administrative review and right to judicial review.

Above all of them are governing principles which are also related to the rights as it requires the government not to levy any tax without approval from Parliament meaning thereby no taxation through SROs. Also, it has been demanded, that taxpayers concerned be consulted before imposition of any new tax. For example, if it to be levied on salaried class, they should be consulted. Likewise, different industrial sectors and traders community should also be consulted before imposition of a new tax.

Right to information and assistance requires the FBR to provide taxpayers on demand complete, accurate, clear and timely information regarding the basis for and amount of any tax, penalty or refund owed. A taxpayer must be informed what is being taxed and procedure of payment. Moreover, FBR shall explain a taxpayer’s right and assist him in protecting those rights. A taxpayer shall also have a right to speedy information about various categories like number of taxpayers, tax defaulters, filers versus non-filers, current and development budget, refunds, status of tax related cases in courts and tribunals, role and responsibilities of various officers etc. FBR shall also pro-actively disclose information of public interests.

Right to privacy demands FBR of maintaining confidentiality of taxpayer information (except as authorised by law). Right to professional, fair and courteous service requires FBR to serve taxpayers in a befitting and expeditious manner. A taxpayer will be entitled to lodge a complaint with a senior officer in the event of improper behaviour of a dealing staff. If the supervisory officer does not entertain complaint to the satisfaction of the aggrieved taxpayer, he can have recourse to the FBR member concerned and onward to chairman.

Right to representation and be heard entitles taxpayer the right either to present himself in person or through an appointed representative. If a taxpayer (or his representative) during an interview seeks time to consult an expert, he shall be obliged and FBR stop and reschedule the interview.

Fair and just tax system is yet another right of a taxpayer which shall protect him from perverse and arbitrary, unreasonable, biased, oppressive or discriminatory decisions, processes and recommendations by FBR. A taxpayer is responsible for paying only the correct amount of tax due under the law; neither more nor less.

A taxpayer also shall have the right, according to the draft, for timely remedial action against illegal and arbitrary acts of FBR and entitled to relief from penalties and interest under tax legislation because of extraordinary circumstances. FBR shall waive penalty if taxpayer can show that he acted reasonably in good faith or relied on the incorrect advice of an FBR employee. It shall also waive interest that is result of certain errors or delays caused by an FBR employee.

A taxpayer has the right to administrative review by the Federal Tax Ombudsman and subsequently any representation before the President of Pakistan. He has the right not to pay tax amount in dispute unless Tax Ombudsman directs so. Tax Ombudsman shall help a taxpayer to enforce the rights granted under this charter.

A taxpayer has the right of appeal or review of his case before an independent judicial tax appellate system if he disagrees with FBR about the amount or his tax liability or FBR collection actions. A taxpayer has the right to seek additional judicial remedy in court.

Published in The News International 

CPDI stressed effective legislation on RTI law in Balochistan

QUETTA:  Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has urged the Balochistan government to make amendments in RTI act, 2005 in the light of international best practices.The amendments shall aim to promote transparency, openness and maximum disclosure of information; like RTI laws applicable in KP, Punjab and Sindh. Provincial cabinet of Balochistan has formed a committee to discuss proposed amendments in RTI Act, 2005.

Mr. Amer Ejaz, Executive Director CPDI said that KP, Punjab, Sindh and federal government has repealed weak RTI laws and replaced it with progressive RTI laws. The Government of Balochistan should now follow the suit and expedite legislation of effective RTI law. Citizens and journalists face innumerable problems in having access to government held information related to public matters. He added that Balochistan FOIA 2005 is not effective and doesn’t provide legitimate access to information held by public bodies.

Currently, Balochistan has the weakest RTI law in Pakistan because it has many flaws e.g. scope is restrictive, process of getting information under RTI is neither free nor easy, list of exempted information is longer than the disclose able information. Most importantly, citizens of Balochistan do not have an independent appellate forum like Punjab Information Commission and KP RTI Commission.  He further said that RTI Law is an instrument of change for bringing much needed transparency and accountability in the provincial governmental sphere.

Published in Balochistan Express

 

CPDI stressed effective legislation on RTI law in Balochistan

QUETTA:  Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has urged the Balochistan government to make amendments in RTI act, 2005 in the light of international best practices. The amendments shall aim to promote transparency, openness and maximum disclosure of information; like RTI laws applicable in KP, Punjab and Sindh. Provincial cabinet of Balochistan has formed a committee to discuss proposed amendments in RTI Act, 2005.

 Mr. Amer Ejaz, Executive Director CPDI said that KP, Punjab, Sindh and federal government has repealed weak RTI laws and replaced it with progressive RTI laws. The Government of Balochistan should now follow the suit and expedite legislation of effective RTI law. Citizens and journalists face innumerable problems in having access to government held information related to public matters. He added that Balochistan FOIA 2005 is not effective and doesn’t provide legitimate access to information held by public bodies.

 Currently, Balochistan has the weakest RTI law in Pakistan because it has many flaws e.g. scope is restrictive, process of getting information under RTI is neither free nor easy, list of exempted information is longer than the disclose able information. Most importantly, citizens of Balochistan do not have an independent appellate forum like Punjab Information Commission and KP RTI Commission.  He further said that RTI Law is an instrument of change for bringing much needed transparency and accountability in the provincial governmental sphere.

Published in The Balochistan Point