THE year 2011 marks the 26th year since 1985 of violence and bloodletting in Karachi. The major factor in the violence is the battle for control, which is what has rendered the issue of local government so contentious.
The subject of local government has polarised Sindh, with the PPP, ANP and Sindhi parties representing one set of views and the MQM another. The battle lines are drawn largely around the Sindh Local Government Ordinance (SLGO) 1979, which the PPP, ANP and Sindhi parties lean towards, and SLGO 2001, which the MQM supports.
SLGO 1979 places all powers with the provincial government, while SLGO 2001 places effective powers with the district governments. SLGO 2001 retains the district government system under elected nazims with a broad range of functions and powers, abolishes divisions and the post of commissioners, unifies the former Karachi division under one city district government and divides Hyderabad district into smaller districts.
By contrast, SLGO 1979 would abolish the district government system and restore divisions and the post of commissioners, and replaces the city district government of Karachi with five districts.
The view that basic social services are best delivered by local government is accepted by all and, in this respect, the concept of devolution as enshrined in SLGO 2001 commands broad support. It is, however, also argued that SLGO 2001 effectively undercut the authority of the provincial government and created fiefdoms, thereby, leading to a situation where the writ of the state was being undermined.
The gap between the two positions is wide and there is an urgent imperative to bridge the distance by synthesising elements of the two SLGOs, such that the result is acceptable to all major parties, creates a balance between province and districts and serves the cause of improved service delivery.
One of the ways this can be achieved is by separating the functions of civil administration and service delivery and creating well-defined boundaries between the two. While the provincial government can retain civil administration functions, local government can retain service delivery functions. Essentially, this can be achieved by combining provisions of SLGO 1979 relating to revenue and law and order with provisions of SLGO 2001 relating to service delivery functions.
This amalgamation can be achieved by creating a two-track system, one of the divisional administration (DA), responsible to the provincial government, and the other of the district local administration (DLA), responsible to the elected district council. Needless to say, this stipulates the restoration of the divisional tier, headed by commissioners, with districts headed by deputy commissioners as per SLGO 1979. Magisterial powers can remain as in the SLGO 2001 system.
Functions of the divisional tier can include revenue (land administration), law and order, disaster management and divisional planning and development. The taluka tier may be abolished as it has led to the duplication of authority and is considered superfluous. Urban town municipal administrations can be replaced by the system as under SLGO 1979 The DLA can be structured as per SLGO 2001 and be responsible for delivery of social services, including all development and municipal functions in this regard. Union councils need to have the same powers and functions of erstwhile town committees and report to the respective districts.
The functions of the DLA tier can include finance and planning, works and services (roads, buildings, transport and alternative energy), school education, basic health, social welfare and community development, and urban development.
Urban centres need specific governance arrangements. Urban centres with populations between 250,000 to 1,000,000 can have metropolitan corporation status, to be called metropolitan administrations. The latter may comprise towns, with their own administrations. Candidate cities for this status are Sukkur, Larkana, Nawabshah and Mirpurkhas.
Urban centres with a population size of 50,000 to 250,000 can have municipal corporation status, to be called municipal administrations. Urban centres with population sizes of 100,000 to 250,000 may have towns therein, with their own administrations. Urban centres with a population size of below 50,000 can be managed through town administrations.
All entities — city district administrations, metropolitan administration, municipal administrations and town administrations — can be headed by nazims, elected from amongst their respective councils, comprising of 33 per cent women members. All entities can be funded through provincial finance commission (PFC) awards, with predetermined allocation shares.
The city district administration status can be awarded to Karachi and Hyderabad, with towns therein. Karachi can be divided into three districts — Karachi, Lyari-Keamari and Malir; each with their respective city district administrations and towns.
Or Karachi can continue to be one district, but with towns exercising greater powers and range of functions. Functions that do not cross town boundaries, i.e. internal roads, localised water supply, schools, dispensaries and clinics, etc., can be devolved to the town level.
Some new proposals can be considered. There are developmental and service provision issues that overlap district boundaries. These functions can be dealt with by divisional planning boards with the chief minister as chairman and respective commissioner as member-secretary and including nazims and DCOs of related districts and five professional members, as may be prescribed.
A new division for central Sindh, Shaheed Benazirabad, comprising Shaheed Benazirabad, Naushero Feroze, Sanghar and Dadu districts, and Sehwan taluka, as part of Dadu district may be created. This step could spur development of central Sindh with Nawabshah and Dadu as growth centres.
A new capital town — within the limits of the Karachi city district administration — may be created, comprising areas that house the Governor House, Chief Minister House, the Sindh Assembly, the High Court, the Supreme Court building, the Sindh Secretariat, the Federal Secretariat barracks, the Commissioner House and contiguous areas.
The capital town administration may be appointed by and be responsible to the provincial government. This step is likely to enable the ‘governmental district’ to be developed and managed in a coherent manner. This arrangement can be found in many capital cities that house the seats of government.
The writer is former adviser for planning & development to the Sindh chief minister and an expert on local government systems.