Sindh’s faltering governance

As all governance structures crumble, the citizens are losing trust and faith in state institutions.

Abdul Wajid Rana October 25, 2013
The writer is a former federal finance secretary and a former home secretary of Sindh

Governance’s key elements include degree of trust, reciprocity of relationship between government and civil society, degree of accountability and nature of authority wielded. A state might not formally be at war, whether externally or internally, but its social, cultural, and legal institutions may be structured according to discriminatory beliefs and policies that deny basic rights. In such cases, according to Patrick Hayden in his book Cosmopolitan Global Politics, “great psychological, social, and economic harm is being done to human beings, even if bullets and bombs are not being used”.

Deliberate challenges have been hurled at governance in Sindh, over the last three decades, from different segments of society. The 1980s saw the germination of militancy in the province. Short-sighted policies for short-term gains and tactics of counterbalancing various political and religious forces laid the foundation for social divide. In the process, the architects and patrons of these counter forces ended up creating monsters. This ultimately led to the criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime, both of which rest on the application of brute force, targeted killing and predatory shrewdness. According to an expert, when application of these powers has a legal sanction, it is called politics; when it is devoid of legal sanction, it is called crime. Ever growing financial outlays of businesses with rising criminalisation of politics gave rise to criminal gangs under political patronisation as well as the culture of protection money.

Recent history indicates that ethnic identity is increasingly becoming an important axis around which politics is revolving, in many developing as well as developed societies. Governance and service delivery turn too complicated when multiple competing ethnic and social groups are at odds over which group exerts primary control over the levers of political and economic power, according to another expert. Rapid transformation of Karachi’s demography, more so because of two back-to-back Afghan wars and migration from the north, set off social disorder. Continuing politico-ethnic-religious militancy and inter- and intra-factional conflicts over the last two decades further sharpened the social divide. It looks as if the society has been systematically criminalised, more so since late 2000.

Over 8,000 criminal cases were withdrawn involving thousands of persons. The provincial administration’s reports during court proceedings prima facie reflect that arrested offenders were paroled and bailed out, and criminals arrested for heinous offences were released under the cover of ‘political workers’. Meanwhile, the biggest challenge to the Police Command is to deliver in an environment where loyalty to ‘mentors’ takes precedence over the sense of duty and where the state’s interests are often, and with impunity, subjugated to individual gains. Targeted killing of police personnel has demoralised the force and today, no one is prepared to take the risk as they chose ‘mutual coexistence’.

Today, institutional cleavages are blocking access to all goods and services, which constitutes the principal challenge to governance in Sindh. Revival of ‘fiefdoms’ — no one can be posted to a district without the clearance of the local power centres and informal channels — is seriously threatening the fundamental public good, security of life and property. The governance suffers from two major flaws: Firstly, the good behaviour is not consistently rewarded and bad or unlawful behaviour is not consistently checked or punished. Rather, there is a strong feeling that it is bad or non-compliant behaviour that ensures rewards and success. Secondly, the nature of power exercised has become too personalised. Coalition politics, shifting of powers from the centre to the provinces and an ever growing money-muscle-political power nexus has eroded the authority and effectiveness of a frail public administration. The integrity and professionalism of civil servants is being questioned. As all governance structures crumble, the citizens are losing trust and faith in state institutions. And this is true for both urban and rural areas.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2013.

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SK | 7 years ago | Reply

@ali hashim

Excellent analysis. The only fact that you failed to mention is that it is a pity that the implications you highlight have apparently been lost upon the elected representatives of the urban atea who have chosen to fritter away their energies on matters of far lesser import.

Ali hashim | 7 years ago | Reply

The basic problem in Sindh is that it is the only province in Pakistan where a distinction has been made between Urban and Rural areas. This has been done ostensibly as an affirmative action measure to level the playing field for the rural Sindhi population which is less developed against the more educated Urban areas where other ethnicities reside and constitute a majority.

The consequence of this is that no matter how the Urban votes are cast, the management of all of Sindh including Urban Sindh, will always lie with the representatives of the Rural areas, since the rural seats in the provincial, assembly are more than those for the Urban areas.

The people who have the responsibility to address local issues for the Urban areas have no interest in doing so, since their vote bank comes from the rural areas.

Further as a result of the recruitment quotas the state bureaucrats and the law and order agencies who are responsible to implement the policies made by the rural politicians are also largely staffed from areas other than Urban Sindh.

So as a consequence the people of Urban Sindh have little or no voice in either the formulation or the implementation of the policies that affect them directly.

It is obvious to an outsider that the real solution is that the governance system be modified so that the political representatives of the people are made responsible for all areas that affect the lives of the people living there and the necessary resources are allocated to them. They will have a direct interest in doing so. If they do not, they will be thrown out in the next elections.

This will be possible only if either, the division of the province, which is currently half done, is completed and two separate provinces formed with separate electorates, assemblies and budgets.

A second less drastic option is that responsibility and resources are devolved to a third tier of Government and implement a strong local government system where the local representatives are given extensive responsibility and the resources to manage all local affairs.

We see that when responsibility was actually devolved to this level, as was done during General Musharraf’s time, Karachi witnessed tremendous progress and the law and order situation was also much better.

However, attempts to devolve responsibility and finances to the local Government have been always resisted by the rural party in power at the provincial level.

This behavior has been repeated again a month ago when the Sindh provincial assembly has yet again forced through a bill that limits the scope of the Local Government and vests the responsibility with the bureaucrats instead of the political appointees. As mentioned before these bureaucrats have little or no representation from Urban Sindh.

This is counter to all democratic principles and international practice regarding local government. If the Government continues to play these games then the problems of Karachi will go largely unaddressed once again, irrespective of who wins the Local government elections.

This is a no-win situation and putting in place a bad system will just ensure that even when your “favorite party” wins the Local Government elections they will be unable to make any significant change.

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