ANALYSIS: Will Karachi have a powerful mayor again?
It is also among the most-sought after questions that a mayor going to be elected following the local government elections will have power and authority like its predecessor.
Let’s take a look on legalities that made the previous mayor so powerful. The last local government polls in 2005 were held under the Local Government Ordinance of 2001 unlike the upcoming elections which are to be organised under the amended Sindh Local Government Act 2013.
Was the local government ordinance of 2001 successful?
The LGO 2001 established local government at three levels –as Union Councils, Tehsil/Taluka and District Council Levels. The union was the fundamental unit and Union Nazim and Naib Nazims were elected by the voters, who would become members of District and Tehsil Councils, respectively.
The key feature of the LGO was that it devolved financial, administrative and development powers to the elected officials in the local councils and all the government departments concerned were accountable to the District Council.
Under the system, the Deputy Commissioners were re-designated as District Coordination Officers and subordinated to the District Nazim for executive approvals, performance evaluations and transfers/postings. Similarly district police chiefs became directly accountable to the District Nazims, thus abolishing the role of police oversight by the deputy commissioners.
The LGO 2001 also had an allocation of reserved seats for women (33 percent), minorities, professionals and peasants.
Among several important features of the LGO, it also led to forming of important forums such as District Monitoring Committees to oversee the work of government departments, Citizens Community Boards to allow direct citizen participation in designing and overseeing development schemes and Citizen Police Liaison Committees for promoting rule of law and protection of rights.
What Sindh Local Government Act 2013 offers to Karachi?
The Sindh Local Government Act 2013 generally appears to have maintained status quo instead of devolving adequate fiscal and administrative power to local councils.
Under the Local Government Act, the local government will be a subordinate to the provincial government. The Sindh LG law allows the Chief Minister to dismiss a local government or head of council and appoint officeholders after the dismissal of council heads for 6 months.
This Act created four levels of municipal government in the urban areas: Town Committees, Municipal Committees, Municipal Corporations and Metropolitan Corporations. Members of each council elect the senior officers of these councils. In the rural areas the system provided for a three-tier system of local government, where Union Councils, Tehsil or Taluka Councils and District Councils came into existence. The chairmen of these councils were elected by the members.
The law gives greater autonomy to the provincial governments to supervise and inspect local governments.
The key service delivery functions should be devolved to the local government, but it’s not the case here. The province has made big exceptions to retain large entities such as the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, Sindh Building Control Authority, Lahore Development Authority (LDA), and Solid Waste Management (SWM), etc.
Under the LG Act 2013, the functioning of the Local Government Fund is managed by the Finance Department and Finance Minister of the province.
In contrast, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Act provides greater fiscal autonomy to the local government, as it empowers village and neighbourhood councils to supervise all local government functionaries including revenue officials in their jurisdiction.
Municipal seats in Karachi
In Karachi, there are 209 union committees and 38 union councils.
Voters in urban areas of Karachi will elect 1,210 members while those in rural areas will vote for 304 seats in 38 union councils.
Karachi has six districts, unlike previous system that carved 18 towns in the city. District Central has 51 union committees, District West 46, District Korangi 37, District East and South 31 each and District Malir 34.
Only Malir and west districts have union councils in Karachi. Six union councils have been carved out in west district and 32 in Malir district.
According to the ECP, 964,585 men and 770,634 female voters are registered in Karachi’s District Central, 658,616 men and 528,285 women voters in District East, 929,862 men and 599,970 women in District West, 457,928 men and 347,755 women in District South, 675,589 men and 507,947 women in District Malir, and 675,589 men and 507,947 women in District Korangi.
The erstwhile mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal who stayed in the office from 2005 to 2009, was recognised among other mayors by Foreign Policy magazine for his services.
The magazine had written that “the mayor of Karachi is an unlikely poster child for innovative urban planning.”
Will Karachi have a mayor beyond figurehead to work for betterment of the city to the core? The existing local government law doesn’t guarantee it.