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> Local Government Systems
Discussion with Mr. M.J. Khan,Houston City Council Member, District F
January 06, 2005
Pildat Office, Lahore



Mr. M.J. Khan, Houston City Council Member delivered a special talk on the topic of “Local Government System” under the auspices of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency - PILDAT on January 6, 2005 at PILDAT Premises, Lahore. The meeting was participated by PILDAT team members, Mr. Brian Heath, Principal Officer US Consulate, Lahore; Mr. Rex Moser Public Affairs Officer of US Consulate Lahore, Col. Shahbaz, Director general Local Government and some members of the media.


Upon his arrival to PILDAT Offices, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director of PILDAT, gave a brief presentation about PILDAT to Mr. M. J. Khan and answered his queries about the experiences of PILDAT as an independent entity in its capacity as a think-tank and a research and training organization for legislators. Mr. M. J. Khan praised the role of PILDAT and commented that he was happy that such think-tanks were existing in Pakistan which could work in the area of democratic strengthening as it is the crucial need of the time here, he added.

Introduction of the Speaker

Council Member M.J. Khan obtained his bachelors of Science degrees in Physics, Mathematics and Engineering form the Universities of Sindh and Karachi. He also completed his two Masters degrees, a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering from University of Illinois and a Masters of Business Administration from Rice University. Council Member Khan is a registered Professional engineer in Houston and a Houston City council member representing the Southwest Houston District known as District F. Council Member Khan is also a member of the Sharpstown Civic Association and the Alief Lions Club. He is also an active participant in the Alief Super Neighborhood Council.


Council Member Khan is focusing on capital improvement projects in District F. CIP dollars determine the amount and level of infrastructure improvements throughout the City of Houston. Council member khan also serves on four committees namely, Flooding and Drainage, M/WBE and Small Contractor Development, Transportation, Infrastructure and Aviation, Neighborhoods, Housing and Redevelopment.

Views by Council Member M. J. Khan

Mr. M. J. Khan while describing the local government system of the United States of America said that the success of the system in America lay in the separation of powers amongst the different tiers of the government. Explaining this he said that if congress passes a bill, a citizen not approving of the law has the right to challenge it in the court of law. The justice department is also an independent entity and if it is not satisfied with the law, it may reject it. He said that the city governments raise their own taxes. He said that the City government is independent and it can run the city in the way it wants. The city government is not dependent on the state government and similarly the state government does not take directions from the federal government. On the contrary, all three work in coordination with the common goal of facilitating the citizens.


Explaining the relationship of city government with the state legislature, the state government and the federal government, he said that there existed a sense of harmony and cooperation in the work of the three despite the three tiers being totally autonomous. The city governments respect the federal laws and some of the rules need to be adapted in line with federal government initiatives. The city council also engages in lobbying with state legislatures, governor and the federal government on the issue of allocation of money required for some projects.


Mr. Khan termed transparency as the key to the success of the system in the United States. He said the city council of Houston, which consists of 14 City councilors and one Mayor, cannot hold a meeting unless the agenda of the meeting is not pre-determined and publicised and the general public and the media are not pre-informed. At the city council level the members of the council have to submit a yearly report of their assets. The council members can not receive gifts worth more than US $25. Transparency demands are such that the 14 council members can not meet for a social gathering until it is made public with a pre-defined agenda.


Answering a query whether the constituents understood and respected the demarcation of roles as it exists in the US about the federal, state and local governments, Mr. Khan said that citizens at large are aware of which of their three representatives is responsible for what. Sometimes, however, some confusion and overlapping of role occurs but that is because the same people vote for the councilors, mayors, state representative, governor, congressman, senator and the president.


Replying to another question whether his religion was an issue in his elections, Mr. M. J. Khan said that he did not face any discrimination in his election to the City Council for being a Muslim. He said that American society in General is a very fair society and discrimination on the basis of religion, colour or race generally is discouraged. Replying to another question about the growth of Islam in US since his immigration there 29 years ago, he said that Islam was the fastest growing religion in the United States today. Describing experiences of Houston, he said that 29 years ago, there was not a single mosque in the city while today over 100 mosques exist in the city. Praising Houston’s non-prejuidiced atmosphere, he said that even after September 11, 2001, the city experienced no incident of violence against the Muslims.


Replying to another question he said that the image of Pakistan has improved considerably in the recent past. Especially the role of Pakistan in the war against terror is widely appreciated and the status of Pakistan as a Major Non-Nato Ally of the US has helped to improve the image of Pakistan. Pakistanis are considered very smart people and it is expected that each Pakistani couple will be of a doctor and engineer while their children would all enroll into medical schools. He appreciated the role of youth and the Pakistani-American community in the US and said that it was beginning to be politically active on the political horizon of the US.


Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob thanked Mr. M. J. Khan on behalf of PILDAT for his visit and sharing of his views. He also presented Mr. M. J. Khan with a set of PILDAT publications.