Did we really put ‘locals’ into govt system?

Have we really moved forward since colonial times in terms of establishing a representative local government system?

Usman Liaquat February 22, 2013
When the Sindh Assembly passed the controversial Sindh Peoples Local Government Ordinance 2012, terms such as “black spot on democracy” and “slap on the face of Sindh’s residents” cropped up in nationalists’ speeches. Interestingly, when the act was repealed, some MPAs used the same terminology to describe the development.

This is the first time that a democratically elected government has dabbed at putting together a system of local government. Interestingly, if you carefully examine the local government experiments under the colonial rulers, military regimes and the current democratic set-up, you would notice that at the fundamental level, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference in the breeds of systems that cropped up under each.

The common theme that underlies local government systems established under the three types of rule is that they were imposed in a top-down manner. In all instances, there were many who claimed that they had simply been left unrepresented. But there is an even bigger similarity.

Before Partition, the British established local councils with little more power than to provide basic services to people. The main aim of the systems was in fact to allow the colonial rulers to co-opt natives.

After independence, the first time that the country took a major stab at local government systems was with the Basic Democracies Ordinance 1959. Political analysts have argued that the aim behind setting up the system was to give a coat of legitimacy to undemocratic rule. The local government systems that emerged under General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf seem to have a similar goal.

Finally under the current drama, where the Sindh government has changed its mind six times about how the province should be governed, it appears that the local government system has once again been used as a bargaining chip to please one coalition partner or the other. Once again, like the other two instances, the democratic flavour of local government system seems to be lacking, especially since so many voices of dissent have been raised.

All of this begs the question: have we really moved forward since colonial times in terms of establishing a representative local government system?
Usman Liaquat A sub-editor on the Karachi desk at The Express Tribune.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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