Who controls Karachi?

Updated February 14, 2019

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DESPITE being the nation’s most populous city and the commercial heart of Pakistan, Karachi lacks a unified command structure that can provide the megacity direction and meet the metropolis’s infrastructural and civic needs.

While there is an elected mayor, the local government lacks teeth; there’s a constant tug of war over municipal powers between the provincial and city governments. On Tuesday, speaking to industrialists in the city’s Korangi area, Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar said that he had administrative control over only 12pc of the metropolis. He blamed the “controversial” 2013 Sindh local government law for a lack of powers, and added that the provincial government had taken over control of several revenue-generating departments.

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It is also true that there are multiple landowning bodies in Karachi, which means that the KMC — while officially functioning as the city’s municipality — doesn’t have control over the entire metropolis.

While there is a degree of politicking between the PPP-controlled Sindh government and the MQM-dominated Karachi administration, it is a fact that major civic functions — water, sewerage, garbage collection — are not under the KMC’s purview.

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During the Musharraf era, local government setups had more powers — Niamatullah Khan’s and Mustafa Kamal’s respective periods as Karachi’s mayor saw more receptive LGs and infrastructural work carried out across the city — but the PPP rolled back the system after taking power in Sindh in 2008.

What has resulted thereafter has been a significant drop in the performance of local bodies across Sindh. While there was criticism that Pervez Musharraf’s local bodies system gave too much power to the third tier by bypassing the province, in the current situation the provincial government is acting like a glorified municipality, micromanaging civic duties and not doing a very good job of it.

The Sindh LG law can do with amendments; a new system needs to be envisaged that grants greater powers to municipal governments, while maintaining a supervisory role for the province to ensure checks and balances.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2019