THE Sindh Local Government Act, 2013, introduced by the PPP to roll back the Musharraf-era local bodies system in the province, has long been derided by opposition parties for disenfranchising the urban areas, particularly Karachi. Now, it appears that the legislation designed to amend the provincial LG law, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was passed by the Sindh Assembly last week, has failed to address the criticism in a satisfactory way. In fact, opposition parties have unanimously condemned it. While addressing a workers’ convention in Karachi on Sunday, federal minister and PTI leader Asad Umar said the new legislation has introduced a “fake local government system” that will not empower the local bodies in the metropolis, while the MQM, JI and PSP have also poured scorn on the new law. From the information available, it seems that the new law will not completely empower the Karachi mayor, leaving him or her at the mercy of the provincial government, while key municipal functions such as water, solid waste management, building control, etc will not completely be under the elected mayor’s control. However, the new law intends to replace the district municipal corporations with the town system that was first introduced during the Musharraf era. The ugly confrontation between the centre and Sindh government threatens to affect governance, as the Sindh chief minister has stopped transferred officials from leaving the province, reflecting the cold relations between the provincial and federal administrations.

There can be little argument with the fact that the LG system the PPP introduced after doing away with the Musharraf model has failed to respond to the needs of Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh. Even Hyderabad, Larkana and Sukkur are in a shambolic state. The major reason for this is that the provincial government has taken over key municipal functions — water, waste management, etc — that should be the domain of elected city officials. The Musharraf-era LG system was far from perfect, but at least people could approach their local councillors with relative ease to get civic issues resolved. Now citizens must run after bureaucrats and administrators to beg for the streets to be swept, or garbage to be lifted. Instead of bulldozing any new LG legislation, the PPP must listen to the opposition and devise a new local bodies law that truly devolves power to the third tier, with the provincial government playing a supervisory role.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2021

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