ISLAMABAD: The Local Government Commission has directed the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) to halt its process to award a contract to collect garbage in the capital until the Ministry of Climate Change’s concerns have been addressed.

The commission had its first meeting at the Convention Centre on Monday with Chairman MNA Ali Nawaz Awan in attendance along with MNA Raja Khurram Nawaz and senators Seemi Ezdi, Ali Bokhari and Tayyaba Ibrahim from the PTI and government officials. Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed and MNA Raja Pervaiz Ashraf from the opposition did not attend.

Mr Awan, who is also the special assistant to the prime minister on Capital Development Authority (CDA) affairs, directed the MCI not to proceed with the contract because the climate change ministry’s input should also be included in the request for proposal (RFP) document.

The commission questioned the rationale behind expanding garbage collection from the urban areas to the rural areas when the MCI’s sanitation workers are already facing a funding shortage in collecting garbage in the urban areas.

Opposition members were absent from commission’s first meeting

“We have directed the MCI to stop process of outsourcing garbage collection. It should be re-evaluated and input from the climate change ministry should be made part of this project,” Mr Awan told Dawn after the meeting.

Mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz told the commission that under an arrangement finalised by the federal government, the CDA was supposed to pay sanitation workers’ salaries. When the CDA slowed down the process of releasing funds, the sanitation workers’ salaries were delayed.

Mr Awan told the mayor that the MCI paid Rs136 million in 2018 to a garbage collection contractor using funds collected from various municipal fees but then stopped paying the contractor.

The commission recommended that the federal government take on the responsibility of paying sanitation workers and any federal government department should be authorised to pay existing sanitation staff until the MCI’s issues are resolved, as strikes by sanitation workers caused littering all over the city.

The commission also sought details of all the sanitation-related contracts awarded in the last few years.

Mr Awan asked how the MCI transfers and posts staff when it says it does not have the rules and regulations to function. He said the Directorate of Municipal Administration used to collect millions of rupees in revenue by auctioning the cattle market, however, no such contract was awarded last year which led to the sacrificial animals roaming around Islamabad.

Mayor Aziz told the commission that the MCI was having problems functioning because of its unapproved rules and funding shortage.

He also said 70pc of the machinery mainly used in environment-related work was out of order but cannot be repaired because of the lack of funds.

The commission said the MCI reportedly had around Rs2 billion in its accounts and asked why it was not being used, to which Mayor Aziz said these funds cannot be utilised until financial and establishment rules are in place with a proper finance department. He said the finance, public relations and admin directorates should be devolved to the MCI.

The commission was told that the CDA had 18,000 employees before the local government was formed, of which the services of 11,000 had been attached with the MCI while the CDA continued to pay their salaries because the MCI had not been provided any funds by the government so far.

Mayor Aziz told Dawn that all the ground realities had been shared with the commission.

“Our proposed rules are lying pending in ministries. When the interior ministry forwarded them to the finance ministry, the latter clearly said until the devolution process was completed between the CDA and MCI, the rules can’t be approved. The government should approve our rules,” he said, adding a parliamentary committee last year had directed that departments still under the administrative control of the CDA should be devolved to the MCI.

“The commission should help us with the devolution of departments and approval of our rules for smooth functioning,” he said.

When asked how the contractor was paid to collect garbage, he said the MCI would pay the contractor after collecting monthly fees from residents.

The cabinet approved the formation of the Local Government Commission last month amid growing tensions between the CDA and the MCI. The commission is a requirement under the 2015 Local Government Act.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2020