Pakistan Delegation completes Study Visit with a Focus on Local Governance and Local Democracy

Copenhagen, February 27: The Pakistan Delegation concluded a 4-day Study Visit to Copenhagen by focusing on the system of local governance and democracy in Denmark. The day included visiting a public school and interacting with teachers and students, visit and interaction with Hvidovre municipality mayor, interaction with an upcoming political party and understanding the local government system.

While visiting the Engstrandskolen Public School at Hvidore, the delegation was met and briefed by Mr. Thomas Pederson Friis, Acting Deputy Head, who welcomed the delegation and informed that 500 pupils study at this traditional Danish school with a department for pupils with suffering from dyslexia. During a discussion on the working of the school, Mr. Friis said that the hiring for teachers is done in a corporate manner and there is no concept of transfers in other regional schools. The school management is also planning an experiment with their students to start a radio and TV station, which will also assist in Public Relation’s of school. He further added the schools in Denmark can only hire trained teachers but a debate is currently underway to introduce people with certain expertise that are not trained teacher but a member of teachers union. Teachers unions are very organized and determine the employer/employee relationship. The Deputy Head Master informed that a person has to train for 4 years to be qualified teacher. They can continue to increase their qualification and to develop subject expertise.

Later, the Delegation members interacted with Grade 8 Students and discussed about the participation of youth in politics. During the discussion students pointed out that MS Office should be taught at an earlier age and should be part of curriculum. It was pointed out till the 7th Grade different skills like carpentry are also taught. The Danish pupils inquired about the standard of education in Pakistan. Honourable Mr. Omar Ayub Khan, MNA explained the students about the schooling system in Pakistan. Mr. Friis added that students have a high knowledge of democracy and the administration is working hard to improve the competency level in students. He further stressed on the fact that reforms are being introduced in school to make children more movement oriented, as it improves health and learning abilities. Discussion on the new school reforms indicated that working hours of teachers have increased and become inflexible. Previously the teachers had to turn up just before their classes and prepare at home. Now they have 9-5 fix timing schedule and prepare at school. The teachers feel they do not have appropriate facilities to prepare at school, as the school does not provide working space to every teacher.

In answer to a question by Honourable Mr. Omar Ayub Khan, MNA, the Deputy Head Teacher said the average yearly raise in income is 4.7% (around US$ 300) and teaching is one of the well-paid professions. Danish schools are also introducing comparative religion as a subject while there is no uniform in the Danish Schools to allow students freedom of thought. Except regular subjects Danish Schools have carpenters, music, food technology, etc. as main line full credit subject. The school has a part time psychologist and a family counselor to assist the teachers with difficult children. The meeting ended with a tour of the school area including common room, play area, classrooms and library.

Later in the day, the delegation was received by Mr. Kashif Ahmad, Party Leader 'National Party' and his two brothers Mr. Amir Ahmad and Mr. Asif Ahmad at the Municipality building. The Mayor gave a welcome address to the delegation. During her welcome address she mentioned that the Town Hall building was 60 years old and was built in 1955. She pointed out the beautiful painting in the counselors office was completed in 3 years by a famous Danish artist and measured 70sq meter exactly the same size as House of the Mayor. The painting has a symbolic value that as how the beautiful city of Hvidovre developed.

The delegation was informed that all decisions of the city are taken in the municipality. The political party of Mayor is ‘Social Democrats’ and the Honourable Mayor added that it would not make any difference with her funds or working if the Party in the center is different from her party. The Mayor proudly shared that the city was a village around 90 years ago and today it is a developed and bustling city turning into one of the closest suburban city of Copenhagen. The Counsel has 21 members. She further informed that the meetings of the Counsel is open and easily accessible to public and can watch the proceedings from the public gallery.

The administration at the municipality has been divided into sections like schools, hospitals, infrastructure, etc. The Mayor has close interactions with the Government and especially the Ministers. It is difficult for the Mayor to work if she is not from the ruling party but even than it does not hinder working of the Counsel. The funding stays exactly the same even if the party in the Parliament is different than the party in the counsel. The Mayor also has a duty to go out and meet people to better understand the issues of the common citizens. She has a special interest to look after the weak and poor. The Mayor added that the municipality is quite popular due to its proximity to Copenhagen and 1200 people are on the waiting list to be accommodated for provision of a house. All meetings of the Counselors are recorded on webcams and can be watched by anybody on the Internet.

In a meeting with Mr. Kashif Ahmad, Mr. Amir Ahmad and Mr. Asif Ahmad the history and purpose of creation of the National Party was discussed. In a candid discussion, they mentioned that the National Party is a Social Center Party with the cause to improve the image of Muslims in Denmark which has been on a decline since the Danish Cartoon issue and Charlie Hebdo event. They want to ensure that the concept of terrorism is not associated with Islam. Denmark has 500,000 immigrants. The minimum age to get your wife immigrated in to Denmark is 24 years (this applies to anyone outside the EU). Denmark has very strict laws for spouse visa with stringent requirements. They suggested that the spouse visa laws are very discriminatory violation of human rights. They acknowledged Denmark has excellent democracy and has the world's best social welfare system.

In the evening, the Delegation members were briefed by Mr. Holger Pyndt, Senior Consultant. Mr. Pyndt welcomed the Delegation to the National Association of Municipality. He started with a presentation on the general statistics of Denmark. He mentioned 74.16% of workforce is occupied in the service industry followed by industry 18.52% and remaining 2.14% in agriculture. The stronghold of Denmark are health and medicine, energy related production, shipping and transportation and IT services. The unemployment is very low and decreasing even by European standards. Denmark has 98 municipalities within 5 regions. The Danish Parliament has between 22-25 ministries. Denmark is success model due to high level of efficiency. Two reforms took place in the history of Denmark to reduce the number of municipality from 1400 to 98. A commission was made under the Minister of Local Governments. In the second reform it was decided that the municipality should not have less than 20,000 inhabitants. It was also informed to the delegation that Denmark is a very decentralized country with a strong faith in devolution of power. In history the Parliamentarian were unsatisfied with the performance of state services hence they pursed the move towards localized services. Strong civil society helped achieve these targets. The concept for decentralization was to places services as close to the citizen as possible i.e. with municipalities.

It was also informed to the delegation that 50% of total finance with central government to the local governments (municipality). 29% is kept by the central government to meet its expanse and invest in different projects. Where as 21 % is given to the regions. In terms of spending the highest portion is spent on children through schools and job center. Followed by looking after the elderly people, administration, health, etc. Denmark spends almost twice as much as UK on the sub-national expenditure. Central Government is tasked with policy and regulation, economic policy, foreign and security policy incl. defense, courts, police, prisons, tax collection, custom authorities, postal authorities, railways, national highways, higher education, food control, etc. In Danish context inhabitants mean income hence there is a drive to increase their size. Municipalities are tasked with social welfare and preventive health (including job centers), education and culture, environment, public utilities and planning, public utilities. He also pointed out that unemployment benefit is for 2 years. Every municipality has a 'One Stop Shop' for all public administrative services. The Government is conducting an experiment called “Free Municipality” which are do not receive any funding from the center government and they can replace the regulations of the center with their own. Every municipality has a CEO under the Mayor who is a civil servant. It was also pointed out that 30% of all councilors are women though there is no quota. 90% of municipality's staff are contract based and the remaining 10% are civil servants. 69% of the total budget is staff salaries. Danish municipalities are funded by taxes, user payments, central Government funding's, equalization and loans. Taxes include personal income tax and land tax.

In the end of the fourth day of the Study Visit to Copenhagen, Denmark an evaluation was carried out to discuss the learning and experience of Delegation members during their stay in Copenhagen.

The Pakistan Delegation on the Study Visit to Copenhagen included Honourable Syed Naveed Qamar, MNA (NA-222, Hyderabad, Sindh, PPPP), Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Railways, Honourable Mr. Omar Ayub Khan, MNA (NA-19, Haripur, KP, PML-N), Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance, Revenue, Mr. Aqeel Ahmed Yousafzai, Youth Prime Minister, Mr. Muhammad Shahzar Ilahi, Youth Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Sohaib Saeed, Chairperson Youth Parliament Standing Committee on Economic and Finance Affairs, Mr. Ali Shan Khan, Youth Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Syeda Mizghan Mehboob Kirmani, Chairperson Youth Parliament Standing Committee on Education & Youth Affairs and Ms. Rahy Farooq, Member Youth Parliament Standing Committee on Education & Youth Affairs.

The Study Visit to Denmark is funded by DANIDA, the Royal Danish Embassy, Islamabad and has been organized by the DFC in Copenhagen.

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