By Naseer Memon
Impregnated with ethnic strife, the Sindh Peoples Local Government Act (SPLGA) created an unprecedented anti-PPP sentiment in its stronghold, Sindh. Proceedings of the Supreme Court, hearing a petition seeking annulment of the law, were indicative of an inclement outcome for the government. The recent experience of by-elections also sent waves of consternation in the ruling camp as its candidates faced pillories from opponents and disgruntled masses on the same law. All these factors constrained the PPP to cajole its ally to rescind the politically incendiary law. The belated adieu by the MQM to the government is viewed as an overtly cosmetic move under a premeditated script. On the day that acting governor of Sindh, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, signed to repeal the SPLGA, the Karachi Stock Exchange recorded bonanza business — unimaginable if it was not a mock war between the two parties. Nevertheless, the interment of a divisive law averted a lurking ethnic frenzy in the province, already mired with unremitting violence, especially in Karachi.
In the presence of this law, the next general elections could have been a nightmare for the PPP in Sindh. Although the opposition has been disarmed of its would-be most popular slogan of divisive law, the lacklustre performance of the PPP during the past five years has sufficiently exasperated its voters. Rampant corruption, brazen violation of merit in postings and transfers, displacement of several million flood affectees, substandard quality of social sector services, ubiquitous lawlessness, shabby infrastructure and scruffy towns can provide ample ammunition for the election campaign of opposition parties. For the PPP, the past platitude of victimisation and martyrdom of the Bhuttos has lost its lustre to fascinate the masses this time. Portending this ominous fact, the party has embarked upon a medley of actions, including cajoling feudal lords in Sindh.
This cacophony of political manoeuvring, however, does not obviate the need for a viable local bodies system in Sindh. Both parties cannot be absolved for their failure in providing an amicable solution to this conundrum during their five-year rule. An ethnically polarised province needs a local bodies system that can bridge ethnic divide in the province and guarantee quality service delivery to all residents. While the SPLGA was a flawed arrangement, the 1979 Sindh Local Bodies Ordinance is not an ideal choice, either, and needs to be supplanted by a more amicable and workable system of service delivery. Any party that takes reins of the province after the next elections should initiate a dialogue among the people of Sindh to develop consensus on a local bodies system that can devolve powers and resources without clenching them in the fist of any single entity. Creating islands of prosperity in the ocean of impoverishment would culminate in an endless turmoil.
The Eighteenth Amendment promised more resources and powers for provinces. Sindh should also have reaped some benefits but the truncated execution of the amendment and machinations of bureaucracy have forestalled the same. A credible local bodies system that guarantees prudent management of resources and a fair exercise of authority can tap the unharnessed potential of the province to create development opportunities for all residents without watering ethnic acrimonies in the province.