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‘Strong LGs needed to redress grievances of Sindh’s people’

A strong local government is needed to redress the grievances of all the communities living in Sindh because the present system has many flaws and requires rectification, guests at a research report launch were told on Tuesday.

The launch of ‘Undermining Local Governance: A Review of the Sindh Local Government System 2013’ was organised by the Institute for Progressive Ideas to Re-inform Governance Pakistan (INSPIRING) and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (Piler).

The event was conducted by Dr Niaz Murtaza, executive director of INSPIRING, and Dr Saeed Ahmed Rid, faculty member of the Quaid-i-Azam University’s National Institute of Pakistan Studies, at the Pakistan Medical Association House.

Dr Murtaza said the tenure of the current LG system in the province needed to be extended to five years instead of the present four years.

The research conducted in Karachi and Shikarpur reveals that many key functions have been reassigned to the province in the 2013 LG system, such as police, major local development activities and building control. City development authorities have not been placed under elected LGs so all divisible local services should be reassigned to the local bodies.

Dr Murtaza said that for a comparison the researchers studied the LG systems of Mumbai and New York. “We were disappointed in Mumbai’s system, but the LG system of New York is quite good.”

He said the powers of the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) seemed limited for the biggest LG body in Sindh. “Some key LG functions do not fall under the purview of the KMC, for example health, education, environment, overall development, security, etc.” Some of the functions included under its domain are control of stray dogs, brick kilns and cattle colonies, which seem trivial for it and more appropriate for union committees, he added. “The scope of powers of the KMC must be revisited so that all key LG functions for Karachi fall under its purview.”

Dr Murtaza said that neither the Sindh Local Government Act 2013 nor Pakistan’s Constitution mandated immediate re-elections for the local bodies within a stipulated period in case of completion of term or early dissolution. “Therefore, the act must be modified to mandate holding of LG elections within 90 days.”

He pointed out that a single-tiered system appeared to be problematic for towns, adding that towns with up to 50,000 people might need help from a higher LG authority to undertake complex tasks while towns with up to 300,000 people might need UCs. “This issue should also be reanalysed with active participation of key stakeholders before the next elections, based on the performance of the current system.”

He said the army-controlled cantonment areas in the metropolis and elsewhere had their own separate LG structures, which created multiple and confusing jurisdictions. “Such areas should be brought under the supervision of the relevant city municipal authority.”

Political parties did not nominate people from the marginalised groups in the 2016 elections, and affluent candidates captured even those seats that were reserved for low-income groups, he added. “The election application process must be reviewed to end elite capture of reserved seats. We encourage political parties to nominate more people from the marginalised groups.”

Senior economist Dr Kaiser Bengali said improvement of the service delivery system was not the main objective of making the Sindh LG system effective. “The whole fight is for the control of powers. Awarding of contracts and jobs are the main considerations of the control over the LG system.”

Presently, the LG system has virtually been abolished or is “de facto dead” in Sindh and Punjab, he added. “Provincial governments are making companies for all LG services instead of providing powers to the local bodies. You have to have unified municipal services in the country.”

He said Sindh did not have a homogeneous population, and the province had witnessed discriminatory spending of public funds in the LG system, claiming that during the former LG system of Gen Pervez Musharraf, the City District Government Karachi had not spent even one per cent on the localities where Sindhis and the Baloch were in majority.

Dr Bengali said political parties had been exploiting their ethnic communities instead of serving them, adding that elimination of the taluka system from Sindh’s LG system was needed because there was an overlapping of functions in the previous system.

He said the provincial finance commission defied logic because majority of the body’s members were bureaucrats, adding that major taxes were pocketed by the provincial government, whereas the LGs did not have the authority to collect taxes.

The economist claimed that Sindhis had been turned into a minority in Sindh and the Urdu-speaking community a minority in Karachi. “In the 2013 general elections two Pakhtuns were elected to the Sindh Assembly, and it is hoped that in the next elections the number of Pakhtun members would be increased from five to seven.”

He said that due to military operations a large number of Pakhtuns had migrated to Karachi, increasing their political power in Sindh. “There is a common point for cooperation to join together for the welfare of the province, and for that purpose political agreement is needed.”

Reporter. ‘Strong LGs needed to redress grievances of Sindh’s people’. The News, July 26, 2017.

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