Tuesday May 24, 2022

Despite its month-long impressive protest, JI sells itself short over local govt powers

A look into SLGA 2013 and it’s amended version of 2021 shows most of the contents of JI-Sindh govt agreement were already part of those acts

January 29, 2022
Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi Amir Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman speaks after JI holds successful talks with Sindh governments delegation led by Local Government Minister Nasir Hussain Shah, on January 28, 2021. — Facebook/karachijamaat
Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi Amir Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman speaks after JI holds successful talks with Sindh government's delegation led by Local Government Minister Nasir Hussain Shah, on January 28, 2021. — Facebook/karachijamaat

Despite its 29-day impressive sit-in in Karachi, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) seemed to have bargained away its leverage during its late-night talks with the Sindh government as it failed to mint out as many financial, administrative and political powers for the local governments as it was expected of the party.

In a surprising move, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the JI reached an agreement in the wee hours of Friday, resulting in the culmination of the month-long protest sit-in outside the provincial assembly against the controversial Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA) of 2013 and its amended version of 2021.

When The News delved into the SLGA 2013 and that of 2021, it learned that most of the contents of the agreement were already part of the SLGA 2013 or 2021.

In the agreement, it has been decided that the local bodies’ health and education institutions will be returned to the local bodies and the Karachi Medical and Dental College will also be given back to the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). The provincial government will give the local government its due share in the collection of the motor vehicle tax.

Other than this, according to Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) programme coordinator Mushtar Ayaz, who has also expertise in local governments, there is nothing fruitful that the JI has achieved.

As per the accord, the government will release monthly and annual funds to union councils on the basis of population. The mayor will be the chairperson of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB). Earlier, the government had decided to make the mayor co-chairperson of the KWSB. The two sides have also decided that the mayor will be chairman of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB). However, according to the SSWMB Act 2021, the mayor will be the divisional head of the board.

The Sindh government has also agreed to establish a provincial finance commission. The mayor and town chairperson will be members of the commission. In the SLGA 2013, it is clearly mentioned that the mayor and district chairman will be PFC members.

Effective representation will also be given to the mayor and chairperson in the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA), master plan department and other development authorities. In the boards of all the development and land authorities and the SBCA, the mayor is already a member by virtue of this position.

The catch

There’s an amount after tax collection that the federal government issues to the provinces and the provinces are supposed to disburse that amount to the district and local governments through the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC). Since 2007, PFC hasn’t been issued to the local governments in Sindh.

It is already mentioned in Chapter 12 of the SLGA 2013’s Section (3) that the PFC “may, before making recommendations, consult anybody or person, and shall take into account the principles of population, backwardness, need and performance of a council”. In the same act, it has been laid down that the mayor of a metropolitan corporation and chairman of a district council will be members of the PFC along with the finance and the local government ministers, and the finance and local government secretaries, two members of the provincial assembly and others.

According to a 2007 notification from the Sindh Finance Department, the formula for the distribution of PFC among the districts is on the basis of the 40 per cent of the district or the town’s population, 35 per cent of its infrastructure, 10 per cent of its development needs, five per cent of its area and 10 per cent of its performance indicator, which means the revenue it has collected.

Speaking to The News, the MQM’s Muhammad Hussain explained that the PPP-led provincial government had never issued PFC to the city government despite its mention in the SLGA 2013. He said they want the PFC to be an independent body, which distributes provincial funds adequately.

As for the Octrai Zila Tax, there is no mention of it in the SLGA 2013 and the SLGA 2021. The OZT is a tax which the federal government collects from the goods that enter or exit the premises of the city for the purpose of trade. The federal government collects it and then transfers the proceeds to the provincial government.

Former MQM mayor Wasim Akhtar said that the provincial government had never disbursed the due share of the OZT to the city government.

He said the government was supposed to pay some Rs60 billion to the KMC and the district municipal corporations (DMCs) in terms of their OZT share. Every year, there’s a 15 per cent increase in the OZT collection which the provincial government, he pointed out, never gave to the KMC and DMCs.

The JI’s Saifuddin Advocate, who was part of the negotiating committee, told The News that they had agreed with the PPP in their meetings that the provincial government would release the OZT proceeds to the local councils based on the formula of the year 1999 when 76 per cent of the OZT share that was collected used to be handed over to the local councils.

Toothless chairman

Even before the JI sit-in, the PPP government through the SLGA 2021 had made the mayor the chairperson of the SSWMB and co-chairman of the KWSB. For this purpose, the SSWMB Act 2021 was passed, according to which there will be six divisional boards of the SSWMB of Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur, Shaheed Benazirabad and Larkana. The mayor of these divisions will be chairman of their respective boards.

The catch is that there will be a steering committee over all these boards, which will be headed by the minister for local governments. The mayor of the divisional board will look after the operational aspects of the SSWMB, while the policy and financial aspects will be under the steering committee. An official of the Sindh government shared on Friday that the KWSB’s board would be more or less of the same structure.

Ayaz said that the agreement of the JI was more like establishing the authority of the PPP. Article 140A of the constitution talks about administrative, political and financial independence of the local government. Even after the JI and PPP agreement, he said, there seemed to be no implementation of Article 140-A.

Responding to this, the JI’s Saifuddin said that constitution of mayor as chairman KWSB and SSWMB was their achievement as it had been their demand even before the SLGA 2021. Although there was much more power that the elected mayor needed to get, he said, they wanted complete devolution and would keep striving for it.