Strong local govt system demanded to redress problems facing communities in Sindh

KARACHI: A strong local government is needed to redress grievances of all the communities living in Sindh as the present system have many flaws, which needed to be rectified, said a researcher Dr Niaz Murtaza, Executive Director of Progressive Ideas to Re-Inform Governance Pakistan (INSPIRE) here Tuesday.

He was speaking at the launching ceremony of a research report “Undermining Local Governance: A Review of the Sindh Local Government (LG) System, 2013”, conducted by Dr Niaz Murtaza and Dr Saeed Ahmed Rid, Quaid-e-Azam University at PMA House here. The launching ceremony was jointly organized by INSPIRE Pakistan and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER).

Dr Murtaza said that the tenure of current local government system in Sindh needed extension to five years instead of the present four years. The research study conducted in Karachi and Shikarpur in Sindh reveals that many key functions had been re-assigned to the province in the 2013 LG system, like police, major local development activities and buildings control. The city development authorities have not been placed under elected LGs so all divisible local services should be re-assigned to local governments.

Dr Murtaza said for a comparison, the researchers saw the local government systems of Mumbai and New York. “We were disappointed to see the Mumbai’s system; however, the local governance system of New York is quite good.

He said the powers of Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) seem limited for the biggest LG body in Sindh. Some key LG functions do not fall under the purview of the KMC, for example, health, education, environment, overall development, security etc. Some of the functions included under its domain are control of stray dogs, brick kilns and cattle colonies seem trivial for it and more appropriate for UCs. The scope of powers of the KMC must be revisited so that all key LG functions for Karachi fall under its purview.

Neither the Sindh Local Government Act 2013 nor Pakistan’s Constitution mandates immediate re-elections for the local bodies within a stipulated period in case of completion of term or early dissolution. Therefore, the Act must be modified to mandate holding of LG elections within 90 days, he said.

He pointed out that a single-tiered system appears problematic for towns. Towns with up to 50,000 persons may need help from a higher LG authority to undertake complex tasks while towns with up to 300,000 persons may need Union Committees. This issue too should be re-analyzed with the active participation of key stakeholders before the next elections based on the performance of the current system. The army-controlled Cantonment areas in Karachi and elsewhere have their own separate LG structures which create multiple and confusing jurisdictions. Such areas should be brought under the supervision of the relevant city municipal authority.

Political parties have often not nominated persons from marginalized groups in the 2016 elections and affluent candidates have often captured even seats reserved for low-income persons. The election application process must be reviewed to end elite capture of reserved seats. Political parties are encouraged to nominate more persons from marginalized groups.

Senior economist Dr. Kaiser Bengali said improvement of service delivery system was not the main objective of making Sindh Local Government system effective. The whole fight is for the control of powers. Awarding of contracts and jobs was the main considerations of the control over local government system, he said.

Presently, local government system has virtually abolished or “defecto dead” in Sindh and Punjab provinces. Provincial governments are making companies for all local government services instead of providing powers to local bodies. “You have to have unified municipal services in the country, said Dr. Bengali.

“We don’t have homogenous population in Sindh and we witnessed discriminatory spending of public funds in local government system.” He said during the former local government system by General Pervaiz Musharraf Karachi’s District City Government had not spent even 1 percent on localities where Sindhis and Balochs were in majority. Political parties are exploiting their ethnic communities instead of serving them.

According to Dr. Bengali elimination of Taluka system from Sindh’s local governance esystem was a need because in previous system there was over-lapping of functions.

Provincial Finance Commission is a violation of the logic for making such a body as majority of its members are bureaucrats. Major taxes are kept by the provincial government, where as local governments do not have authorities to collect taxes.

In Sindh province, Dr. Bengali said Sindhis are now have turned in minority and in Karachi Mohajirs are in minority. In 2013 elections two Pakhtoons were elected at Sindh Assembly and it is hoped that in 2018 elections the numbers of Pakhtoon members would be increased to five to seven. Due to military operations a large number of Pukhtoon people have migrated to Karachi, which has increased their political power in Sindh. “There is a common point for cooperation to join together for welfare of the province and for that purpose political agreement is needed,” said Dr. Bengali.

“Siraiki is another ethnic group which is also migrating in a large number to Karachi due to economic reasons. As the share-cropping system has been abolished in agriculture in Southern Punjab so they come to Karachi to find jobs and after 10 years Siraikis from Southern Punjab may demand their political share in Sindh’s provincial assembly,” he added.

“MQM, during its eight-year rule on local government of Karachi and Hyderabad, misused the local government system and generated funds from commissions from contractors,” he said adding that the provincial Sindh government is also doing the same now by making flyovers, under-passes and repair of major roads, which usually provided hefty commissions to the government ministers.

He said Germany’s local government is ideal. Karamat Ali, Executive Director of PILER said that in General Pervaiz Musharraf’s system there was no free and fair elections of Local Governments. All elections were engineered. Giving example of election of Nazims, he said in Karachi the name for Nazim was already decided much before.

“We need to make a model local government system,” he said adding that present governance system is derived from the colonial system and now the Commissionerate system has been restored. Karamat Ali said that rulers want to maintain their control over power. Nature of the state has not changed from the colonial style of state. People have to fights for local government system. Fight does not mean a war, but a movement of people, he added.

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