Call for separate chapter in constitution to define local govt structure, powers

Pakistan’s constitution needs a chapter on definitions of the structure, powers, and functions of the local government, just like there is one each for the federal government and the provincial governments.

There was consensus on this at a stakeholders’ dialogue on the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA) 2013 organized by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives in collaboration with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom-Pakistan on Monday.

During the dialogue, the speakers urged the provincial government to strengthen the LG system and commence the second phase of the local bodies elections without further delay.

Economist Kaiser Bengali stressed the need of having a separate chapter in the constitution to define the structure, powers, and functions of the local government. Former federal minister and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) leader Raza Haroon also spoke about the need of having a chapter on the local government in the constitution as defined in Article 140-A.

Speaking on the development of Lahore, Haroon said the city’s equation with its provincial government is great. He said Karachi is somehow an alien city, which is why the voice for the empowerment of a local government comes from Karachi the most. “We feel alienated.”

He also said that there is no mention of the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC) in the constitution. It has to be mentioned in Part IV (Provinces) of the constitution, he added. As for the LG polls, Haroon said they have to opt for protests and sit-ins because there is no mention of a proper time frame in the constitution for holding LG elections, just like there is for general elections.

He said that the caretaker set-up for the local government is in the shape of an administrator. He pointed out that the administrator has not been elected. He asked how an administrator, who has not been elected, can decide tax collection through a third-party without any discussion in the city council.

He stressed on the unity of command in the city. The PSP leader said the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) land management department covers some 30 per cent of the city, which means the municipal body does not have jurisdiction over 70 per cent of the city.

He explained that six cantonment areas, the Port Qasim Authority, the Pakistan Railways and various municipalities have control over land in the city. He pointed out that even Karachi Administrator Barrister Murtaza Wahab was complaining about this issue a few days ago. He said the constitution should also mention which departments need to be devolved.

Bengali pointed out that unlike Lahore, Karachi is not integrated with Sindh. He said that outside Karachi, there is a lurking fear that attempts are being made to separate Karachi from Sindh.

“When we ask anything for Karachi, it’s looked at as that attempt,” he lamented, suggesting that the LG empowerment campaign be mounted together with Sindhi leadership because the rest of the province also needs an empowered local government.

Joint Provincial Election Commissioner Ali Asghar Sial said that due to a lack of security personnel, the LG elections may take place in further two phases. He said that a proposal to conduct the polls in the remaining districts of Sindh in two phases is under consideration.

Syed Hafeez Uddin, a senior politician and lawyer affiliated with the PSP, said that Clause 112 of the SLGA makes it compulsory for the provincial government to issue the PFC Award every four years and distribute the financial share to all districts and LG agencies from the provincial revenue according to the formula.

However, he said, the provincial government has failed to finalise the procedure for the distribution of provincial revenue during the past 15 years. The issue must be resolved immediately on the pattern of the National Finance Commission, he added.

Pakistan Muslim League-Functional MPA Shaharyar Khan Mahar said that an empowered LG system in accordance with Article 140-A of the constitution is the need of the hour. He said the Sindh government is not committed to implementing the SLGA 2013 in true letter and spirit.

He pointed out that a local government plays the primary role in planning and managing all aspects of a disaster, such as floods, saying that the provincial government has been unable to deal with relief and rehabilitation due to the absence of empowered local governments.

Haroon emphasised on the need of a constitutional amendment for the protection of local governments as the third tier of government. He said India has the best LG system, and Pakistan should replicate their best LG practices here.

He also said Karachi lacks a unified command structure. Unity of command for the metropolitan and district governments, as far as the municipal and civic functions under the mayor or the chairman are concerned, should be inserted in Part IV of the constitution, he added.

Published in The News on November 08, 2022