THE new Local Government (Amend­ment) Bill, 2021, that the Sindh Assembly passed with majority vote a day before gives total control to the provincial government over municipal organisations so much so that it can effectively pull back their reins with just a notification without going through the cumbersome process of legislation.

Through Section 16 of the amended bill, the Sindh government added Section 140-A (Power of government to amend schedules) in the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013, that reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the government shall have powers to amend, alter, add or remove any entries from the Schedules, by notification in the official gazette.”

While LG Minister Nasir Shah had claimed to have ‘empowered’ the municipal organisations under the new legislation, practically his government took away the many functions mentioned in the LG law of 2013 but also ensured that the elected mayor of Karachi would remain at its mercy as far as his / her role in the affairs of water and sewerage, solid waste management, building control, master plan, food control is concerned.

After the passage of the bill on Friday, the LG minister had told reporters that the elected mayor would be given “a role” in the organisations currently tasked with solid waste management, building control, water board, etc. However, the amended bill is silent about such a role.

PPP govt takes away many functions mentioned in LG law of 2013

An opposition lawmaker aptly put it as centralisation / provincialisation of powers instead of devolution of powers at the grassroots level.

Restoration of town system

The one good thing in the new seven-page document is restoration of town system and abolishment of district municipal corporations.

Towns were first introduced in the Sindh Local Government Ordinance, 2001, during the era of former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Under that system, a city district government replaced the old Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and 18 towns replaced five district municipal committees. The system was wrapped up by the Pakistan Peoples Party government around a decade before reviving the KMC and DMCs.

Currently, Karachi is divided into seven DMCs — South, West, East, Central, Malir, Korangi and Keamari — and after the bill becomes law these DMCs would stand abolished and town metropolitan corporation will take their place.

As per the population limit — 500,000 to 750,000 — Karachi may get between 20 and 25 towns since its population stands at 16 million in the controversial Census 2017. However, the new legislation is also silent about the number of the expected towns.

In the amended bill of 2021, the minimum limit of population for a metropolitan corporation was enhanced to 5m from 3.5m in the SLGA 2013.

Likewise, a municipal corporation’s population would be in between 300,000 to 750,000 from previous 300,000 to 3.5m; the population of a union committee in a metropolitan corporation should be 45,000 to 75,000 while the population of a union council (rural areas) mentioned in the new legislation is between 10,000 and 25,000.

The new bill also takes back health-related functions as well as operations of hospitals and a medical and dental college from the only metropolitan corporation of the province as mentioned in Schedule-II Part-I (5).

The said clauses of the LG law of 2013 say: “Medical College and Teaching/Specialised Hospitals e.g. Karachi Medical and Dental College, Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, Sobhraj Maternity Home, Sarfaraz Shaheed Hospital, Spencer’s Eye Hospital, Leprosy Hospital and such other institutions as were being managed by City District Government Karachi or Karachi Metropolitan Corporation or as may be specified by Government before commencement of this Act.”

No direct election for mayor

In the new legislation, the chairmen, vice chairmen and councillors of union committees in urban areas and union councils in rural areas would be directly elected through people’s vote.

While Prime Minister Imran Khan had time and again advocated the direct election for the office of mayor of big cities, the amended legislation in Sindh says mayors would be elected indirectly as UC chairmen of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation would elect mayor and deputy mayor.

According to the SLGA 2013, one has to be chairman of a union committee in the jurisdiction of a metropolitan corporation to contest the mayoral election to be held via ‘show of hands’. But, in the new legislation, any person can contest the mayoral election for which the procedure has been changed via an amendment to ‘secret ballot’.

Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani had defended the indirect election for mayor, saying it was not possible for a candidate to cover such a big city like Karachi having 21 National Assembly constituencies. “Those giving this proposal should tell as to why they are not in favour of direct election of prime minister and chief minister,” he asked.

“There is a dire need of a new local government system for which an entirely new legislation is required as amendments in the 2013 LG law won’t work,” says a former government official. “I know there are people in the PPP who wanted a better and effective system to run Karachi, but their proposals were given a cold shoulder.”

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2021

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