On paper, the decision of the Sindh government to formally revive the local government system, based on the 1979 legislation, is a step in the right direction. Any form of local government is better than the rule of unelected bureaucrats at the grassroots level. Having said that, this is also a case of a provincial government not keen on devolving powers to the local tiers. The PPP was under constant pressure from one of its allies, the MQM, to introduce local governments and a half-baked system via the Sindh People’s Local Government Ordinance 2012 was launched, which soon became controversial in rural Sindh. Eventually, it was discarded once the MQM pulled out of the Sindh government prior to elections.
It is also ironic that a party, which struggled against General Ziaul Haq’s rule, is adopting a faulty piece of legislation enacted by the dictator to produce a class of loyal politicians. A long list of opportunistic politicians in Pakistan are creations of General Zia’s local governments. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s system of 2001 delegated even more powers to the local levels. Unfortunately, there was little political ownership of that system and it was abandoned in 2008.
It would have been better if the PPP had initiated debate on what sort of local governments were required in Sindh, given its demographics, urban-rural and ethnic divides. Designing a system that is fundamental to the workings of communities, towns and cities cannot occur without the people’s input. By resuscitating a system that relies on bureaucracy rather than elected officials, the 1979 law increases the burden on bureaucracy and increases red-tape inefficiency. There is still room for debate on this decision, particularly as it is going to affect service delivery and grievance redress mechanisms. Engaging with all stakeholders would provide the legislation with legitimacy. It would serve the Sindh government well to revisit its decision and consider the long-term governance crisis in the province.