Without the establishment of local government and the empowerment of elected representatives, neither is public participation in government affairs possible nor can a sustainable and genuine democratic system take hold in Azad Jammu Kashmir. These views were expressed by the speakers while addressing a conference organized here on Sunday by the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR) on local body elections to be held in the 3rd week of next month. Former Chief Justice Mohammad Azam Khan lauded the holding of local elections and termed it a wonderful political development. Women cannot be empowered without imparting quality education under the Devolution Plan, he claimed. Justice Azam Khan suggested that to empower the local government in the real sense, reforms should be made in the Local Government Act after the election. He said that the provision of quality education is very important for the empowerment of youth and women. Health Minister Dr. Nisar Ali Abdali said that despite all the difficulties and reservations, the PTI government is conducting local elections because it has been promised in the party’s manifesto. He said that all the stakeholders have agreed to conduct local elections. Former minister and central leader of Muslim League-N, Chaudhary Muhammad Saeed while speaking on the occasion said that the local bodies have to be empowered politically and financially. He suggested that a District Finance Board should be formed so that each district and village could receive direct government funding. Based on population, area, and poverty rate; the government should allocate grants to districts and then the districts to local union councils. This formula can open the door to development and prosperity. PTI AJK leader Zulfikar Abbasi said that their villages and cities cannot be cleaned until an effective management system is entrusted to the elected representatives of the local government. Coordinator of SDGs for Azad Kashmir Syed Ali Hasnain Gilani said that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations is not possible without the establishment of a local government. He said that fortunately Azad Kashmir is ahead of other regions of the country in achieving development goals. Pakistan People’s Party Women’s Wing President and Member of the Legislative Assembly Nabila Ayub said that women have specific problems and needs which men cannot solve and fulfill. Therefore, it is important to increase the effective representation of women in elected positions. The low representation of women in the politics of Azad Kashmir can be compensated by increasing the representation of women at the local government level. Representation of women in local bodies should be at least 25 percent. She stressed that the political parties should give a maximum number of tickets to women so that they gain confidence and participate in national-level politics. CPDR Director Ershad Mahmud said that the establishment of local government will bring a key change in the economic, political, and social landscape of the region. He said that at least 30 percent of the development budget should be given to the local government. He said that the local government election will prove to be a game changer. PPP Shaheed Bhutto leader Chaudhry Munir Hussain said that the local government system means a new economic and political process that will bring positive change in our society. Senior journalist Muhammad Shakeel said that facilities like education and health should come under the jurisdiction of local governments. Former secretary Information Shaukat Majeed said that for the establishment of an empowered local government system, the government of Azad Kashmir, especially the MLAs, must agree on the distribution of funds. The host of the event, Dr. Waqas Ali, in his closing remarks, said that the local government can play a key role in combating the climate change that our country is facing. He said that this was the third dialogue session organized by the CPDR and it will continue such activities so that the gap between civil society and the decision-making forces is reduced. Senior Kashmiri journalist and JKUJ President Maqsood said that local government systems were setting the stage for future leaders. If the elected representatives of these bodies are given adequate powers, the wheel of development will move forward. Ch. Arif, Dr Zubair Qazi, Hafiz Maqsood, Taimur Akbar, Ms. Asma Ali Shan, Mashkoor Ahmed Mughal, Ms. Effifa Owais and others also spoke on the occasion.