Pakistan’s largest city is also its least liveable. A recently released Global Liveability Report 2017 produced by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) graded 140 cities for 30 qualitative and quantitative attributes to serve as proxies for stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. Karachi ranked 134 out of 140 cities.
For Karachi’s residents, the EIU ranking is hardly news. They have lived their lives in a city that struggles to maintain law and order or offer reliable municipal services including water, sanitation, public transit, and parks and recreation.
A deep dive into the EIU ranking reveals the primary cause of Karachi’s poor ranking. On a scale of 0 to 100, Karachi received 20 for stability. Even Harare in Zimbabwe, where hyperinflation was estimated at 79.6 billion percent in 2008, ranked 40 for stability, two times that of Karachi.
The stability factor comprises the following indicators: prevalence of petty and violent crime, terror threats or that of a military conflict, and the threat of civil unrest. Karachi checks all these boxes.
The ethnic, political, and sectarian fissures have denied the city the opportunity for economic growth. These fissures are also responsible, at least partly, for Karachi being listed as one of the least liveable.
While Karachi faces tremendous challenges, most could be addressed with good governance. For instance, the clash between institutions responsible for the worsening of law and order and the environment in the city is completely avoidable.
Consider that the provincial government in Sindh has been battling with the Chief of police, A.D. Khowaja. The government’s desire to replace the Chief and the Chief’s insistence to hold onto the job provides an opportunity for crime and criminals to flourish.
Since the 80s, law and order in Karachi have gotten from bad to worse. Police and other civil government agencies have failed to restore a sense of normalcy in Karachi. A paramilitary force, Pakistan Rangers (Sindh), has been drafted to fight violent crime.
Even when the police tried to be proactive, it took missteps rather than exercising sound judgment. Remember, the same embattled Chief of Police promoted vigilante justice by awarding 50,000 rupees to the man who shot and killed two suspected robbers.
Karachi is also notorious for having a mayor who governed the city from a prison. The mayor of Karachi, Waseem Akhtar, was imprisoned with 39 criminal cases registered against him. He was released on bail in November, 2016.
Karachi is too big and too complex to be governed as a city. In the absence of a census, one cannot be certain of the population of Karachi. The last census in 1998 recorded the city’s population at 9.3 million with an annual growth rate of 3.5%. Assuming the same growth rate, the population today can be estimated at 17 million. A 4% annual growth rate puts the population at 20 million.
If Karachi were a country, its population would make it the 60th most populous country in the world, putting it in the company of Romania and Sri Lanka.
Whereas countries with similar demographic footprint have access to a much larger share of tax revenue, Karachi remains perpetually starved for funds, rendering it unable to discharge its municipal obligations adequately.
Karachi needs revenues of the size of a country and not that of a municipality. If successive provincial and federal governments continue to treat Karachi as a municipality, they are likely to drag Karachi down to being the least liveable city in the world.
Karachi could be made manageable by implementing far reaching structural changes. This may require designating Karachi as an autonomous city-state that has control over resources and governance. This may also necessitate Karachi to be institutionally distinguished from Sindh to enhance the city's ability to demand a greater share of tax revenue.
Consider the following. The population of Sindh is estimated at 56 million. If Karachi alone is 20 million strong, it accounts for 36% of the province’s population and roughly 10% of the nation’s population. With the risk of oversimplifying, I would still argue that Karachi deserves 36% of the provincial and 10% of the national tax revenue.
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Consider that Pakistan’s GDP is estimated at $284 billion and the federal tax revenue is estimated at 10% of the GDP or $28.4 billion. If Karachi’s population accounts for 10% of the nation’s population, it should receive $2.84 billion from federal funds alone.
Now here is the reality check. Earlier in June, Karachi’s mayor unveiled the budget for 2017-18. The total budgeted amount was 27,135 million rupees (approximately $270 million). If Karachi were to receive even 5% of the federal tax revenue, the amount would be around $1.42 billion, which is five times the current municipal budget.
Unless Karachi is given a greater control over its resources and a larger share of tax revenue that commensurates with its demographic size, the city is likely to decline in liveability and becoming the world’s largest urban slum.