Wednesday June 07, 2023

Devolution in Sindh

By Editorial Board
December 17, 2021

When we need harmony and stabilisation in political relationships, we get accusations and chaos. When there is a need for consensus building, arbitrary legislation is carried out. This happens at both federal and provincial levels. When the PTI-led government at the centre passes laws without considering the opposition’s point of view, the PPP is among those who raise their voice and call it undemocratic – rightly so. When it comes to Sindh where the PPP has been in power for 13 years now – the longest unbroken spell of power by any party in the country’s history – the standards should be the same. On the contrary, momentum is building up against the recently passed Sindh Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2021 with opposition parties in Sindh vowing to challenge the new law at all available forums. The PPP government, which has a long track record of its own struggle for democracy, has failed to understand the implications of arbitrary legislations.

In such a situation, all political parties must commit to safeguard people’s rights and not their own interests. But that is not happening. The Pak Sarzameen Party has called for a constitutional amendment to fix the problem, whereas the Jamaat-e-Islami has vowed to take to the streets on Dec 19 to protest against the ‘black law’. The PTI has gone a step further by approaching President Alvi and seeking his role against ‘human rights violations in Sindh’. All this points to a complete breakdown of communication between the ruling party and the opposition parties in Sindh, much on the same pattern as we have been witnessing in Islamabad at the federal level. The bill that the Sindh provincial assembly passed on Nov 26 with certain amendments to the Sindh Local Government Act 2013, has drawn criticism from not only opposition parties but by observers of local government systems as well. The SLGA 2013 in itself was highly centralised and deprived the local governments in Sindh of many of their powers. The new bill is said to have further emaciated the local bodies and snatched away most of their remaining powers too.

Moreover, the Sindh Assembly passed the new bill without presenting and refereeing it to the standing committee for necessary consultation. This has developed into an alarming situation whereby democratic debate has not taken place. If this practice continues, it is likely to foment even more acrimony and distrust in the political culture of Sindh. The PPP did a great job in 2018 by introducing and passing the 18th Amendment with consensus. Now there is a need for a similar spirit so that democratic norms are upheld. Just like the central government has no right to deprive the provinces of their constitutional rights, the provincial governments also have an obligation to uphold the rights of local government in their respective provinces. The purpose in the end must be to devolve as much power as possible to the people and to ensure that they have the ability to at least raise their problems with representatives they can easily reach. The fact that no party has truly succeeded in managing the problems of Karachi raises an additional issue, which too needs to be thought through carefully as a new law is brought in.