By: Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: Female lawmakers decried discrimination by their male counterparts after a plan to reduce their annual funds was disclosed during the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Assembly session on Thursday.
Chief Minister Mehdi Shah admitted during the assembly session of receiving an application signed by all elected male members seeking to divert funds allocated to women lawmakers and male technocrats for 2013-14. The signatories represent all political parties.
“This is sheer discrimination against women as we are entitled to equal amounts of funds,” said Minister of Information Sadia Danish, referring to the application.
Of the 33 legislators in the G-B Assembly, 24 are elected members and all are male, while six out of nine are female members, who are nominated. Each lawmakers gets the same amount of funds – Rs140 million for two years – for development work in their respective constituency.
“When it comes to the funds, they (male members) unite by setting aside party and other differences,” Danish added, refusing to accept any cuts in their share of funds.
Other lawmakers including Yasmeen Nazar, Gul Meera and Amina Ansari also spoke on the floor and reminded their male counterparts of how they extended financial support from their funds for completing projects in the past despite the fact that this did not directly benefit their own constituency.
Later, the chief minister referred the issue to a committee, which was to be formed following the assembly session.
Deputy speaker under fire
Legislators, including those sitting on the treasury benches, repeatedly accused G-B Deputy Speaker Jamil Ahmed of being party to the attempt to divert funds from women lawmakers. Ahmed was conducting the session in the absence of Speaker Wazir Baig on the last day of the current session.
“The debate has been triggered at the behest of the deputy speaker,” said Pakistan Peoples Party’s Aftab Haider.
Rehmat Khaliq of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Finance Minister Mohammad Ali also took pot shots at Ahmed, calling him “a biased person.” Ali accused the deputy speaker of being “the biggest hurdle in settling the issue.”
Role of NGOs
The role of USAID and Aga Khan Development Fund was questioned in the house and Mirza Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) sought time to debate the issue.
He termed USAID’s role “dubious” and claimed the same sentiment is shared by many across G-B. Nationalist leader Nawaz Naji asked the chief minister to launch a detailed inquiry as to why the US was involved in funding projects in the region.
The deputy speakers requested the law minister to arrange a briefing from relevant officials for the house in this regard in the coming weeks.
CM Shah also briefed the house about his meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which he discussed the issue of boundary of G-B with Kohistan. “I told the PM Bhasha Dam cannot be constructed unless the boundary issue between Kohistan in K-P and G-B is clearly defined.” The release of timber approved during the PPP government was also discussed, he added.
In response to a question regarding wheat, the CM said prices have been increased by Rs1.5 per kg primarily due to pressure from the federal government.