Back and forth
THE U-turns and flip-flops when it comes to how the third tier of government in Sindh is to be organised was already enough to make the head spin. And that was before the sudden reversal of the PPP this week, undoing the Sindh People’s Local Government Act signed a few months ago. First, some background. The PPP resented the Musharraf-era local government system because it bypassed the provincial government and was funded, and to some extent controlled, by the centre. So once the constitutional protection given to the Musharraf-era local governments expired in 2009, all the provinces ditched the law in favour of direct control by them of the third tier of government. In Sindh, there was an added complication: the MQM dominates Karachi and Hyderabad, while the PPP, and its Sindhi-speaking base, dominates the rest of the province. As a coalition partner, the MQM demanded direct control of Karachi and Hyderabad. So the SPLGA was mooted: rendering five districts of Sindh, including Karachi and Hyderabad, as metropolitan corporations while the remaining 18 districts were to be run under the commissionerate system.
Behind that duality is a tussle of two key issues: which tier of government effectively oversees land rights and controls the police. The PPP, content to operate through provincial bureaucrats it controls by virtue of its dominance in the Sindh Assembly, preferred the commissionerate system. The MQM, knowing it would lose out at the provincial level, preferred Karachi being administered as a separate whole and Hyderabad divided into several parts to solidify its control at the local level. Unhappily for the denizens of Sindh, none of these arrangements had much to do with better service delivery to the people. It was and remains principally about political control. So with a general election on the horizon and the PPP and MQM having to shore up party bases that are rippling with discontent, the fate of SPLGA was sealed. Once the election is held and the PPP and MQM presumably again emerge as the largest- and second-largest blocs in the Sindh Assembly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the SPLGA is reverted to in one form or another.
Until then, though, the PPP and the MQM have triggered a dangerous game. Slanging matches in Sindh along ethnic lines can have all manner of unwanted knock-on effects — and all for the sake of parochial political interests of the PPP and MQM ahead of an election. Swapping in and swapping out an entire system of government is a bad joke with the people; and its consequences can linger far beyond what the masterminds have planned.