A ruckus was witnessed in the Sindh Assembly on Saturday when the contentious Sindh Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2021 was passed again, with a few amendments to the original draft, amid an uproar by opposition members and a scuffle between Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf lawmakers and treasury members.
In the bill, among the major changes conceded by the ruling PPP were removing the clause to elect any person (and not just elected members) as the mayor, deputy mayor, chairperson or vice-chairperson. The clause mandating elections for these posts through secret ballot was also removed.
The bill, which was initially passed amid the opposition's absence during a session last month, primarily takes away functions of education and health from municipal bodies. It also abolishes district municipal corporations (DMCs) in urban parts of the province, replacing them with town municipal corporations.
The bill has been rejected by the opposition, which had boycotted the assembly proceedings in protest when it was first presented there. However, the ruling party in the province, the PPP, had got it passed amid the opposition's absence in the same session on the basis of its numeric majority, following which it was sent to Sindh Governor Imran Ismail for his assent. Ismail had, however, returned it to the Sindh Assembly for reconsideration.
When the bill was presented again today (Saturday) by Sindh Local Government Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah before the House for reconsideration, opposition members stood on their seats and shouted slogans, such as "robbery on rights is unacceptable", and tore up copies of the agenda.
They gathered in front of the speaker’s rostrum as the bill was passed, with the chair asking the protesting members to move to a side as he was unable to see Nasir moving the bill.
And Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Haleem Adil Sheikh went on to dub the bill "a black law".
In his speech, Nasir said Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had met Governor Ismail on the matter and the objections raised on the bill had been addressed.
"There has been a hue and cry [on the bill], when we have actually given more powers to local government institutions," he remarked.
The minister assured that local government representatives would be empowered under the new bill, adding that PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had called for increasing their powers.
'Nothing worse than an illiterate opposition'
Chief Minister Murad also addressed the House on the occasion, criticising the opposition for protesting against the bill.
He commented that "nothing is worse than an illiterate opposition", explaining that the bill had been amended as per the governor's recommendations and it would again be sent to him for his assent.
Claiming that the bill was in line with the expectations of the people of Sindh, the chief minister added that the PPP had to pass the bill in urgency as the Election Commission Pakistan (ECP) had set a deadline.
He was referring to the ECP's deadline of November 30 for the Sindh government to provide prerequisites for holding local government elections in the province.
But when the bill was first presented, "they [the opposition] created a hue and cry instead of suggesting amendments to its," the chief minister said.
He added that there was still room for further amendments to the bill.
Reacting to the opposition's criticism, he said: "It was said that the occupation [of the assembly] was unacceptable. Are we occupying the Sindh Assembly?"
He then alleged the opposition was indulging in linguistic politics.
In an apparent criticism of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Shah commented: "The one who created linguistic differences is sitting in London. You have disowned him but have not dissociated from his ideology."
"Love Sindh. You are from Sindh," he continued, adding that the bill had been presented after consulting all stakeholders.
The assembly also passed the Sindh Solid Waste Management Bill, 2021 today, making mayors the co-chairpersons of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) along with the LG minister. The Sindh Civil Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and The Sindh Factories (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021 were also passed.
Speaking about the Sindh Solid Waste Management Bill, 2021, in the House, Nasir said the clause on the mayor heading the SSWMB had been added on the opposition's demand.
He said the SSWMB was formed because of the poor performance of DMCs and the board should comprise elected representatives.
"Previously, the chief minister, and then the local government minister used to head it, and now a mayor will head it. This was demanded by the opposition and we have accepted this demand."
Later, Nasir addressed the media alongside Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani outside the provincial assembly.
He told reporters that 80 per cent of the amendments proposed by the governor had been made to the local government bill.
Moreover, Ghani rubbished the claims that the opposition was not allowed to debate the revised draft of the bill in today's session.
"To say that an opportunity was not given [to the opposition to speak] is completely wrong and [shows] their ignorance," he said.
Ghani also criticised opposition members for their "unruly behaviour and inappropriate conduct" during today's proceedings, saying that many of the opposition's demands regarding the bill had been accepted by the Sindh government.
With additional reporting by Qazi Hasan