KARACHI: Amid a noisy protest followed by a walkout by the opposition members, the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday passed the Sindh Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2019 unanimously allowing for removal of heads of municipalities in the province by a simple majority, replacing a previous provision that required a two-thirds majority of a council.

The protest and walkout by the three opposition parties — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Grand Democratic Alliance — surprised Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani who said they had duly been taken into confidence on the total seven amendments.

Led by Opposition Leader Firdous Shamim Naqvi, opposition lawmakers shouted slogans to disapprove the law, gathered in front of Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani’s rostrum and tore copies of the day’s agenda.

“How can they protest now when I have spoken over this [amendment] and got their prior approval,” Mr Ghani said as the opposition members kept chanting slogans against the amended legislation and raising their clenched fists.

The protesting members walked out of the house as Mr Ghani kept reading the amendments and getting approval of the house.

The PTI, MQM-P and GDA tear copies of agenda; LG heads can now be removed with house’s simple majority

Before the protest and walkout, MQM-P’s Khwaja Izharul Hasan said his party had always been a fierce opponent of the present LG law, over which it had even moved court.

“We opposed the bill then, we oppose this bill now,” said Khwaja Izhar.

Two members representing the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, however, remained conveniently seated. The minister later thanked them for supporting the government’s law.

Speaker Durrani did not hide his displeasure over the tearing of the order of the day, saying such an act was unacceptable.

Simple majority needed for mayors’ removal

Minister Ghani said six of the seven amendments were suggested by the Election Commission of Pakistan to get the provincial local government act to conform with the Election Act, 2017.

The remaining amendment, however, was related to the removal of a head of a municipal body by majority of votes instead of the previous condition of two-thirds majority.

It reads: “A mayor, deputy mayor, chairman or vice-chairman shall be removed from office if a vote of no-confidence is passed against him or her by simple majority of the total number of members of the council concerned.”

Mr Ghani said: “This has been done keeping in mind that this law reflects the provisions and procedure which is being applied in the upper tiers of the elected forums. When a prime minister and a chief minister can be removed through a no-confidence move by simple majority, this should also be applied in the local government system.”

He said the government had earlier included chairmen of the union councils and union committees as well in the same ambit, which after consultation with the leader of the opposition was changed since they got elected through direct vote.

Mr Ghani said in the 2013 LG Act, the provision of two-third majority for dislodging heads of municipalities was written fearing that the LG system could become fragile if councillors frequently removed their heads by simple majority.

However, he added, “a number of chairmen and vice chairmen are occupying their positions despite being opposed by majority members; thus they don’t summon council sessions and [are] even running their matters illegally without passing budgets of the respective councils. This all warrants us to amend the law”.

Amendment to end ‘undue influence’

Another amendment in Section 58 of the act deals with “undue influence”.

It says: A person is guilty of exercising undue influence if he: (a) to induce or compel any person to vote or refrain from voting, or to offer himself as a candidate, or to withdraw his candidature or retire from contesting, at an election, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf; “makes or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint; inflicts or threatens to inflict any injury, damage, harm or loss; calls down or threatens to call down divine displeasure or the displeasure or disapprobation of any saint or Pir; gives or threatens to give any religious sentence; uses or threatens to use any official influence or government patronage; maligns the armed forces of Pakistan; or prevents any woman from contesting an election or exercising her right to vote”.

It further defines the same person by saying: “on account of any person having voted or refrained from voting, of having offered himself as a candidate, or having withdrawn his candidature or have retired.”

“[He or she] directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf uses any place of religious worship, or any place reserved for the performance of religious rites, for the purpose of canvassing for the votes or not to vote at an election or for a particular candidate; or for any of the purposes mentioned above by words, spoken or written, or by signs or visible representation, publishes anything or does any act prejudicial to the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part of Pakistan; or by abduction, duress or any fraudulent device or contrivance impedes or prevents the free exercise of the franchise by a voter, or compels, induces or prevails upon any voter to vote or refrain from voting.”

Elaborating further, the law said “harm” included social ostracism or excommunication or expulsion from any caste or community.

Six garbage transfer stations to be set up in Karachi

Earlier, responding to a calling-attention notice, the LG minister said the government had planned to establish six garbage transfer stations in the city on modern grounds so that any inconvenience to the citizens due to presence of existing GTS got removed.

He said the LG department had imposed a ban on putting garbage on fire at the stations, where garbage was being lifted for its disposal at the landfills on a daily basis.

Opposition Leader Naqvi complained that the government had not presented reports about the finances of two quarters of the current fiscal year in the assembly.

Speaker Durrani said such reports had routinely been presented in the house. However, members seldom gave them importance in the past. He, however, asked the treasury to present the reports soon.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2019