Sindh’s local government is a bastardized British colonial French model
Karachi is heading into local government elections on October 23, in a week’s time. At this point most people are either apathetic to or confused by the way the local government system works. We asked Mayraj Fahim, an international expert, to comment. In her Substack newsletter, she wrote: Karachi is governed through a fragmented framework the likes of which the British abandoned when they urbanized in the late 19th century. In the article below she explains that we are actually suffering because of the flaws the Anglicized French model has bequeathed to us.
The PPP government continues to make counterproductive local laws because it is still held hostage to a problematic colonial legacy. The urban-rural divide that the PPP has clung to is a reflection of the two eras of British local governance that were reconciled at home but not in India. They reflect governance that before and after inclusion of the French model of local government.
India was the only British colony to get the French framework. This context has not been realized and has been the root cause of failure to modernize local governance in Sindh, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Analysis of the continuing struggle to improve local governance in the three countries has not taken this into account because it does not compare them to the evolution of British and French local governance. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank and donor guidance reflects this shortcoming.
The French model
Today France has over 36,500 communes with 550,000 local councilors. A commune may be a city with over two million inhabitants such as Paris, a town of 10,000 people, or a small hamlet with less than 100 persons. Communes manage: primary schools and pre-schools, local roads, local police, urbanism, housing, cemeteries, local social services, local transportations, and gas and electricity networks. Source: The French Metropole: How it Gained Legal Status as a Metropolis
Essentially, the current urban framework used in these places reflects the system that the British discarded in order to embrace the French mode of governance. In order to reconcile the Anglo-French legacy and modernize governance, Sindh must weight its framework in favor of the French elements as the British did at home.
In fact, Sindh must follow the French evolution into the present. France has the leading and most evolved western model of local governance; and it is also most compatible with the rapid urbanization experienced in Sindh. Its framework is exemplified by an extensive networked system that is vertical, horizontal and includes decentralized cities. Failure to have a networked system is the greatest failure of Sindh local governance.
Most western countries have elements of the French model, which they added as they urbanized. Among English-speaking countries, Canada has the most elements of the French model. This is reflected in different ways in its three most populous provinces Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The three provinces also have the most developed frameworks in the country.
France has the most advanced metropolitan governance in the West. Because of the knowledge-sharing inherent in the European Union, the region has the most widespread metropolitan governance (outside China). The British now lag behind EU countries in having elements of the evolving French model.
Adoption of French Model: Due to rapid British urbanization in late 19th Century
England no longer has anything like an urban framework. The fragmentation which weakens this form rendered it unworkable during rapid urbanization. The British found the integrated French model was more useful for them. This understanding is still absent in Sindh.
And it is visible in the Sindh Local Governance Act, 2013 that remains in force. The 2013 Act returned to the Zia ul Haq era local framework and departed from the Musharraf era because the government is unable to comprehend the flaws.
[Related article: Under Musharraf Karachi had a three-tier system consisting of a city district council; 18 town councils (London boroughs, and in rural India panchayat samithis); and 178 union (neighbourhood) councils (the English parish councils, or gram panchayats/sabha in India)]
The Zia ul Haq era of local governance was rooted in the framework reflected in the Bengal Village Self Government Act 1919, which was a slight evolution from the Local Self Government Act of 1885, reflecting the early British understanding/grappling with the inclusion of the French model.
The nomenclature used by the Zia ul Haq system follows what the British introduced; and is unlike the nomenclature used in India today. However, Indian rural governance still follows the three-tier framework of the British inclusion of the French model—or what I view as the Anglicized French model. This is because the middle tier did not have governance powers in the French model at the time. France currently has three tiers of vertical governance; but the county (Pakistan’s district) level is the middle tier with a regional tier above it.
It was the Musharraf Era large city model that was reflected in the proposed model for Bengaluru’s modernized governance. It was also the subject of a symposium District Government in Pakistan - model for India held at the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies in 2009. So, whereas the PPP fails to understand the value of the Musharraf era local modernization, some Indians did.
The writer is an expert in local government systems
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