THE Sindh local government law that was virtually bulldozed through the provincial assembly on Monday has attracted controversy ever since it first appeared as the Sindh People’s Local Government Ordinance 2012. The PPP and MQM had the numbers and saw the law through the legislature — without debate — even as other parties in the Sindh Assembly protested. The new law has attracted the criticism of Sindhi nationalists, some government allies and opposition figures. While it may be difficult to question the merit of a local government system that encourages grass-roots democracy, what cannot be condoned is the mishandling of an issue which has the potential to create deep divisions in society. The SPLGO 2012 was promulgated in early September and the notification to implement it was issued on Friday. Why such haste? It would have been more sensible to have called an assembly session and put the draft before Sindh’s elected representatives. That this procedure was not followed has raised suspicions about the political motives behind the move.
The law calls for five metropolitan corporations in Sindh, with the province’s remaining 18 districts to be governed by councils. It also restores the Police Order of 2002 — but only in Karachi. The rationale behind leaving other areas out of the purview of the police order is unclear: did the MQM want the system only for the Sindh capital, or did the PPP not want to implement it in the districts where it wields power? What is clear is that there should be one system — police, administrative and other — of governance in Sindh. Having two separate systems will be controversial and impractical. True, cities and rural areas have different needs. Nevertheless, a uniform system is needed to address development issues in an even-handed manner.
Considering that there is a need for public representatives at the grass-roots level, nationalists and others who are opposed to the law itself should be asked to clearly enunciate their views on the LG system and describe its flaws. Voicing their opinion is their right, but by not participating in the debate in a coherent manner, and not giving alternative suggestions, they only come across as trying to gain political mileage. Meanwhile, the PPP-led government has done itself no favours by turning an idea with merit into a highly controversial law. It must now dispel the impression that a separate system for Karachi has been proposed as a ‘favour’ to the MQM. There is still a chance to salvage the situation if the government reaches out to disgruntled parties inside and outside parliament and considers amending legitimate weaknesses in the law.