Friday April 19, 2024

Local power

By Editorial Board
January 25, 2022

The PPP government in Sindh has finally initiated a process of negotiation about the controversial local government law. On Sunday, a delegation of the ruling party visited the headquarters of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) to address its concerns. PSP leaders Mustafa Kamal and Anees Kaimkhani are reported to have informed the PPP about their reservations regarding the law that nearly all opposition parties have decried. The main concerns of the opposition are regarding an overwhelming concentration of power at the provincial level, at the cost of district and metropolitan administrations. There is truth in these reservations as powers and resources that should be the prerogative of a local government cannot and should not be taken away by an arbitrary piece of legislation, especially by a party that advocated and championed the 18th Amendment in the constitution in a move forward to greater provincial autonomy. If a chief minister or provincial ministers end up deciding and managing most of the matters that should be part of a local-government domain, it reflects a lack of confidence in local political leadership.

It is unfortunate that the PPP has displayed a disappointing inflexibility in its approach to local governance in Sindh. Karachi, with its own peculiar dynamics of ethnic and linguistic mix that any city or province should be proud of, holds the most diverse population in the country. To govern such a city, a certain level of local decision-making power is imperative, if not absolutely essential. The PPP should have carefully reviewed the new LG law for its possible fallouts. Now we are at a point where some opposition parties staged sit-ins and are planning protest marches, which the city can hardly afford.

The best way to determine who enjoys how much support of the people is to hold fair and free local government elections in the province. And for that, Sindh needs a law that is not arbitrary and does not deprive the local administrations across the province of their due authority. An empowered local-government system in Sindh – and in all other provinces for that matter – is the need of the hour. The rights of local people to manage their own municipal affairs deserve protection and respect. There are some that are trying to take an unfair advantage of this controversy and have made speeches targeting certain ethnic groups that have been living in the province for decades. That is unfortunate and an alarming reminder of times that are long gone and which must not come back. All concerned should act responsibly now to avoid violence in Sindh, which witnessed ethnic riots of massive proportions in the 1980s and 90s. The Sindh government on its part must not concentrate all powers in its own hands at the provincial level, and the opposition parties must also try not to make it into a full-blown war – while retaining their right to protest a law that will need to be changed if any middle ground is to be found. Sindh, especially its capital, cannot afford a reopening of old wounds.