Delayed local bodies

Editorial Board
Sunday, Nov 13, 2022

By now we have heard every excuse in the book for a delay in local government elections in nearly all provinces. This is especially glaring – and disappointing – in Sindh where the provincial government has been delaying local government elections for Karachi. Elected and empowered local bodies have remained a dream in Karachi which, being the largest city of the country and an economic and industrial hub, deserves a well-oiled municipal machinery that can solve its myriad and growing problems. Taking advantage of a clause in the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA) 2013, the Sindh government has once again postponed LG elections in Karachi division for another 90 days. The SLGA 2013 itself is highly controversial as it deprived the local bodies in Sindh of most of their powers. Garbage collection and the water and sewerage board and building control authorities all have been snatched away from the local governments and given to the provincial authorities. Even then, the Sindh government is not willing to arrange for the LG elections and is not facilitating the Election Commission of Pakistan to move ahead with the polls which are long overdue.

Ideally, the ECP as an independent body should have the sole power to extend the poll dates. The ECP is bound under Article 218 to hold elections and the government should facilitate it rather than creating one impediment after another. The courts have also been expressing their displeasure at provincial governments for their reluctance to hold LG elections. Repeatedly delaying the LG elections in any part of the country is not advisable. Though all tiers of government should be playing their respective roles effectively and efficiently, for the direct day-to-day services of a metropolis it is the local government that matters the most. If the third tier of government remains out of place for long, governance collapses.

Since the ECP was bound to hold elections within 120 days following the end of the four-year tenure of the local governments in Sindh that expired in August 2020, now there should be no excuse for any further delay. It is worth recalling that the first phase of the LG polls in Sindh was completed in four divisions of Benazirabad, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, and Sukkur in early 2022. The second phase for Hyderabad and Karachi should also have been completed much earlier as it is already the third year without any elected local government in these major cities. Since July this year, LG polls have been postponed multiple times and now there is no room for any further delay. Last month the ECP found itself compelled to postpone the LG elections as the government of Sindh excused itself from providing the required security personnel on the election dates that had been announced much earlier and nearly all wherewithal by the ECP was in place to proceed with the exercise. Of course, without adequate security arrangements the polls could not go ahead. Nearly all political parties – apart from the ruling PPP in Sindh – have decried the postponement. It is unfortunate that a process which should have been completed by now hasn’t moved forward at all. The end result is that citizens are left without the representatives who should be most responsive to their needs.