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Opposition stages walkouts as govt refuses to meet protesting LG representatives

Updated June 10, 2017

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CITY Mayor Wasim Akhtar addresses councillors outside the Sindh Assembly on Friday.—PPI
CITY Mayor Wasim Akhtar addresses councillors outside the Sindh Assembly on Friday.—PPI

KARACHI: As the provincial government stopped the city’s elected local government representatives from staging a demonstration outside the Sindh Assembly against a ‘meagre’ budgetary allocation for Karachi, opposition lawmakers in the house also staged separate walkouts to express solidarity with the protesting councillors on Friday.

The rally, led by Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar, was organised in protest over the Sindh government’s decision not to include any of the development schemes proposed by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. Besides councillors belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, elected LG representatives of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were also part of the rally.

As the authorities closed the gates of the road leading to the Sindh Assembly and the rally was stopped at the gate, the protesters had no option but to hold a demonstration at the Kabootar Chowk near the Sindh High Court’s Victorian-era building.

The government did not allow councillors to hold their protest in front of the Sindh Assembly

The Sindh Assembly was in session and about to initiate the general discussion on the new budget when the protest of LG representatives began at the Kabootar Chowk.

As soon as Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani called the house to order at 11.50am, Syed Sardar Ahmad, the parliamentary party leader of the MQM, drew the attention of the house towards the protest staged by elected LG representatives just outside the assembly premises. He requested the government to send some ministers as a goodwill gesture to hold talks with the protesters.

Mohammad Hussain of the MQM also urged the treasury not to give a cold shoulder to the city’s elected LG representatives and observed that some ministers ought to visit them to express solidarity. He warned that otherwise his party would boycott the session.

However, Senior Minister Nisar Khuhro said that staging a protest against the assembly was tantamount to expressing no confidence in the house. Despite giving funds to Karachi, the protest by the city mayor and LG representatives and allegation of injustice was not appropriate, he added.

He said that the mayor was demanding the inclusion of the KMC’s development schemes in the budget. He should remember that the schemes of the members of the house often are not included in the budget, he said, adding: “We would not allow anyone to do injustice with Karachi. Peoples Party has owned Karachi and never disowned it. Staging protest on the plea of schemes is only point scoring.”

Leader of the Opposition Khwaja Izharul Hasan said the protest outside the Sindh Assembly was not a new thing and it was against the government and not against the house.

He said that speeches of lawmakers on the budget would become meaningless when the treasury, like a monarchy, managed to get the budget passed on the basis of its majority in the house.

He recalled that the Karachi mayor had given 187 schemes to the provincial government and had also met the chief minister and the LG minister but not a single scheme was included in the budget and as such they were justified in their protest. “In democracy issues are not solved by closing the gates. This house is not the house of the PPP and the opposition should not be rejected in this manner,” he said.

He said that his party would not sit in the house to listen to the “false praises” of the government. “We are going to join our elected mayor who is staging protest at Kabootar Chowk,” he said before walking out of the house along with members of his party.

The MQM boycotted the rest of the session and did not return.

After the walkout by the MQM lawmakers, Samar Ali Khan, the parliamentary party leader of the PTI, with the support of the PML-F and PML-N lawmakers, tried to convince the treasury to hold talks with the mayor and others to accommodate their point of view as they were not representing their parties but the people of Sindh.

They were not protesting against the assembly but the government, which is sitting in the house, he said, reminding the government that the local government law was passed because of their (PPP’s) majority and the elected LG representatives were demanding powers like the provinces demanded their share in the National Finance Commission Award from the federal government.

However, Speaker Durrani did not pay any heed towards the PTI lawmaker’s submission and asked him to take his seat.

The rest of the opposition parties — the PTI, PML-Functional and PML-N — staged a walkout in protest against the government’s attitude towards the elected LG representatives.

LG Minister Jam Khan Shoro said that the provincial government so far had spent Rs21 billion on development schemes in Karachi, which he said was the only Sindh district where the executing agency was the KMC and not the deputy commissioner concerned.

After the walkout, seven PPP lawmakers — Pessumal, Ghazala Sial, Khurshid Junejo, Erum Khalid, Murad Ali Shah senior, Dr Khatumal and Syed Ghulam Shah — and two opposition lawmakers belonging to the PML-F — Mehtab Akbar Rashdi and Pir Rashid Shah Rashdi — took part in the general discussion on the budget 2017-18. Later, the speaker called it a day at 4.15pm to meet on Saturday.

‘Kings of bad governance’

Outside the assembly, the protesters were holding placards inscribed with slogans chiefly featuring the meagre share for Karachi in the Sindh budget.

“We condemn injustice to Karachi in the Sindh budget,” read a placard. “Include local government’s representatives’ proposed schemes in the budget,” read another.

In a pamphlet, the protesters demanded that the Sindh Building Control Authority, Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, Solid Waste Management Board, Karachi Master Plan, mass transit scheme, municipal taxation, KDA, and MDA be returned to the KMC.

Deputy Mayor Arshad Vohra, chairmen and vice chairmen of district municipal corporations and union committees also participated in the demonstration.

Mayor Akhtar said he did not want any violent conflict with the provincial government. It was a peaceful protest by which “we want the rulers to know that real development and positive change could only be seen if the city’s elected representatives are given powers and required funds.”

He said it was not just Karachi, but all the districts of Sindh were victims of bad governance.

“They [PPP],” he pointed in the direction of the assembly building, “are the kings of bad governance. They have destroyed the rest of Sindh and now they want to destroy Karachi. But we will not let them destroy Karachi.”

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2017