Politicians need to come clean

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After a rather long hiatus, the Sindh Assembly is now expected to return to session in the near future. Much has happened since the last time the Assembly met; the biggest developments since then have been that the floods have hit many parts of Sindh, Karachi went into shutdown and is now recovering, Zulfiqar Mirza is no longer an MPA, and the MQM is back in government. With all political parties in the Assembly now friends again, it would serve Sindhi legislators to dwell on the following issues in the forthcoming session:

1. Floods: Floodwaters in Sindh have yet to recede from many areas, and critically, many still find themselves homeless, deprived of their flock, and left to the throes of government apathy. In most areas, distribution of relief has been limited to particular MNAs and MPAs handing some assistance – albeit on political grounds. Even proceeds collected during the Faysal Bank T20 Cup are said to have been distributed in the constituency of one influential PPP member, since he was the one who had organised the camp.

Debates in the Sindh Assembly about the floods had continued throughout the past year. PPP leaders had assured the Speaker and the house that all arrangements would be complete by March and the scale of destruction that was seen in 2010 would not be repeated. After March, however, the ministers changed their tune to claim that work would be complete by June and that the delay was simply because the Sindh government did not have any funds for repair works. And this was despite the fact that the President had issued direct orders for relief and rehabilitation of the people, and reconstruction of all dykes that were affected.

2. Preparations to control dengue outbreak: With the incidents of dengue being reported in Karachi, Sindh is officially at risk of a dengue outbreak. The earlier the situation with portfolios is resolved the better prepared Sindh will be for any potential epidemic.

3. Law and order: Debates on law and order were deliberately put off by members of the PPP, most vocally by Senior Minister Pir Mazharul Haq and Law Minister Ayaz Soomro (both from the PPP), on the pretext that the matter was under suo moto considerations.

Of course, one of the reasons for not discussing the law and order situation in Sindh was to avoid having a discussion on Karachi – any attempts to do so meant that the PPP’s bargaining position with the MQM would have been compromised.

Now that there are few concerns over the matter being under suo moto consideration, this is perhaps a moment for the democrats to reflect over what had been gained and what was lost during the collective bout of madness that turned Karachi’s summer season into one of discontent. It is also for the MPAs to finally give answers to the people, answers that neither the chief justice nor Interior Minister Rehman Malik could provide.

But Karachi isn’t the extent of the security problem in Sindh. Even if we were to leave the occurrences in the capital city of the province to one side, the situation in the rest of the province is far from ideal. Arms smuggling in the province is at an all-time high, with both sea and land routes used for the purpose.

However, with the PPP leaders’ nonchalant attitude to law enforcement, even this issue wasn’t deliberated at length. It is no wonder then that most observers of the Sindh Assembly left with a feeling that the government and its coalition partners were simply not interested in law and order. While the National Assembly waits to discuss legislation on deweaponisation, this remains a priority matter in Sindh.

4. Local government administrative units: With the HRCP now putting in its own weight in the debate on local government in Karachi, and the subsequent snubbing of its proposal by members from all parties, it is clear that democrats want to resolve the issue of local government and administrative units themselves without any alien assistance. The matter has been in cold storage for far too long and is the bone of contention between the PPP and the MQM.

The merits and demerits of all systems tried before, and all proposals discussed at the Governor’s House and Chief Minister’s House, should be brought into the public via a serious debate in the Assembly. Sindh needs to grow out of resorting to weapons and using emotional appeal to solve matters; a larger discussion over societal issues surrounding local government and administration, including control over land and police and why it is possible/impossible to hand their control over to local leaders is needed for all to understand the limitations of all stakeholders.