Governance for all

Published July 18, 2011

PARTING company after sharing power — and the enormous benefits that flowed from it — for three years, the leaders of the PPP and MQM recently hurled all kinds of accusations against each other. A cynical public is inclined to believe both are telling the truth.

One coalition of chicanery having come to an end, we stand at the threshold of another with the ‘Q’ and ‘F’ factions of the Muslim League and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI as possible new partners of the PPP. Notwithstanding the price such a coalition would exact, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani will not hear of mid-term elections.It is hard to guess what his own and his party boss’s strategy is but if they feel persuaded that their party would fare better at the polls in 2013 than now, they have lost touch with the street.

Consumer prices, electric blackouts, lawlessness and extravagance — the chief reasons for the government’s rapid loss of electoral support — are going to get worse. No specialist or layman dare predict to the contrary. Elections on schedule can be justified only if ministers and parliamentarians view the current term as their last stint in power. The chances of their being re-elected are diminishing.

There are no short-term solutions to vast problems. No decision made today would bring the prices down or increase people’s incomes, rehabilitate the railways or bring buses on road in a year’s time. A new parliament therefore must come into being soon.

The opposition in parliament and those left out by Musharraf’s laws and machinations have good reason not to press for early elections. Time is on their side. Only Imran Khan, the lone fighter, thinks otherwise though he needs more time than others to put his party together.

The MQM’s decision to quit the ruling coalition and the PPP’s instant retaliation in repealing the local government and police laws of 2001-02 and reinstating the old laws of 1979 and 1861 and the violent commotion it has caused have only imparted urgency to mid-term elections. The gunfights in Orangi and Lyari in Karachi and the general unrest suggest that worse is to come.

For orderly polls, whether held now or 18 months later, it would be necessary to hammer out a consensus on the jurisdiction of the local councils. For Sindh, it is an imperative. The ethnic divisions in the province do not lend themselves to a superficial or tactical reconciliation. The laws and institutions must protect the electoral and economic interests of all ethnic communities. That is not a requirement in other provinces. The search for a uniform local government system, therefore, is futile.

The Local Government Ordinance and the Police Order (since repealed) were drafted at the centre, and the provinces were directed to promulgate both without change. The acting governor of Sindh has now repealed both laws and reinstated the laws of 1979 and 1861 through an ordinance. Actions on both occasions were arbitrary and vengeful.

Musharraf had no parliament and introduced a system that possibly gave him a foothold in politics. The haste demonstrated by the acting governor shows that the ruling party was not inclined even to listen to the dissenting viewpoint in the assembly.

Much of the anger and suspicion would have dissipated had the issue been debated in the assembly. The PPP’s haste is inexplicable. The MQM’s outrage is understandable. The people are left to suffer the consequences.

The conflicting viewpoints can be resolved only by debating the issue in the assembly and negotiating deals in party caucuses.

Platitudes aside, the politics of the MQM revolves around Karachi and Hyderabad and jobs and lands for Mohajirs.

Musharraf’s scheme gave so many functions to Karachi’s city district government and so much authority to the nazim that the provincial government felt like an alien in its own capital. It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that the nazim in power and influence outweighed the whole lot of ministers. He did not at all feel accountable to the provincial government.

The province-district relationship in Karachi came under heavy stress when the two nazims of the city, whom the law required to owe allegiance to no political party, turned out to be stalwarts of their own organisations — Naimatullah Khan of Jamaat-i-Islami and Mustafa Kamal of the MQM. Thus it was not just two individuals but rival political forces that had come to rob the majority party of its authority.

If the law of 2001 heavily weighed in favour of the district government and nazim, the law of 1979 unduly shackled the local councils. The commissioner, for instance, was the controlling authority of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and the deputy commissioner was chairman of the district council. So will it be again.

How to divide the functions between the province and local councils is a worrying question. The political parties having lost their credentials, this task could now be entrusted to a committee of experts. A broad guideline for the expert committee could be to assign regulatory powers to the province, civic functions to the local councils and a developmental role to be shared depending on the purpose and cost of the activity and projects. For instance, it was absurd for the Karachi nazim to have invested in a cardiac centre and a college when the city’s dispensaries and primary schools were in a state of decay.

In dividing the functions, leaders on both sides must submit to the principle that the government at all levels exists for the public good and not to serve their own ambitions and prejudices.

kunwaridris@hotmail.com

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