SC reserves ruling on MQM-P petition seeking powers for local bodies

Updated 27 Oct 2020

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The Supreme Court reserved its ruling on a petition moved by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) seeking empowerment and autonomy for local government institutions in Sindh. — SC Website/File
The Supreme Court reserved its ruling on a petition moved by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) seeking empowerment and autonomy for local government institutions in Sindh. — SC Website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its ruling on a petition moved by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) seeking empowerment and autonomy for local government institutions in Sindh.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, decided to hear a similar petition moved by the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and other petitions at a later stage, but asked the Advocate General of Sindh and a senior counsel representing MQM-P to submit their comments within a week.

The bench, which apparently was inclined to reject the petition with a directive that the petitioner approach the Sindh High Court, changed its mind when Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan suggested the apex court to hear the matter and try to forge harmony between political parties by giving such guidelines as could be followed by all the provinces.

In the context of Karachi, the attorney general said the court cannot make a declaration as there were two opposing political parties -- one of which dominates the local government while the other has a majority in the provincial assembly.

A majority party should not be allowed to impose its will on the minority party since smaller parties have their rights too, Khalid Jawed argued.

“The local government (LG) system should be made effective and the practice of wrapping up LG institutions before completion of their tenure be discouraged at all levels.”

The AGP suggested that representatives of the provincial and local governments sit together under the guidelines provided by the apex court to sort out which powers were to be devolved to the local government and which should be kept by the provincial government.

CJ speaks

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed questioned whether the political party which was asking for empowerment of local bodies could justify its demands by demonstrating that it was worthy of running the city.

They do not deliver and subsequently the powers are taken away by the provincial government through amendments in the law, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed observed.

“Many times I have seen new buses introduced by the local government in Karachi, but they disappear the very next day,” regretted the chief justice.

Salahuddin Ahmed, the counsel for MQM-P, argued that wrongdoing in the past cannot be made an excuse to take away the mandate under Article 140A of the Constitution only because the performance of one provincial or local government was poor.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan wondered how the matter fell within the purview of the Supreme Court when the issue could be dealt with only by the legislature. “It’s for the people of the province to determine, through their chosen representatives, how much power should be devolved to the local government and how much should be retained by the provincial government,” Justice Ahsan observed.

He also stressed that the apex court cannot lay down a framework to be followed by all the provinces, especially when Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seem satisfied with their local government laws.

“How can the apex court step in and come out with `one size fits all kind’ of an order,” Justice Ahsan observed.

Salman Talibuddin, the Advocate General of Sindh, opposed the MQM-P petition by stating that political considerations had compelled the petitioner to move a petition seeking “everything under the sun for local governments”.

It was the right of the provincial government to determine what to retain and what not to, Mr Talibuddin argued.

“We also need to determine the status of the petitioner and establish what rights have been infringed justifying a petition before the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution instead of approaching the high court first.”

Advocate Salahuddin Ahmed pointed out that since local government elections were round the corner, voters must know whether the bodies to be elected were responsible for maintenance of parks only or they had other powers as well, for instance building control, town planning and water supply.

The petitioner contended that in view of “political realities”, the Supreme Court should pass orders for empowerment of local government institutions.

Since 2008, an amount of Rs1,227 billion had been allocated by the Sindh government for the Annual Development Programme (ADPs), but hardly any money from ADP has ever been allocated for urban Sindh.

“It’s another matter that the bulk of funds earmarked for rural areas are siphoned off by the corrupt.”

The PPP government had on Sept 16, 2013, enacted the Sindh Local Government Act to take over control of the devolved departments by amending Sections 74 and 75 of the act in violation of Article 140-A of the Constitution as municipal functions cannot be allocated to a provincial government or any other body or authority under its control, the petitioner argued.

“Thus the provincial government abused the 2013 act by making a parallel statute, rules and regulations to usurp the powers of the local governments.”

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2020