THE proverbial ink had barely dried on the Rs1.1tr Karachi Transformation Plan when cracks appeared between the centre and Sindh over the implementation of the agreement, particularly its financial details. Talking to the media on Sunday, federal minister Asad Umar criticised the PPP for publicly discussing the financial breakdown of the plan, a day after the prime minister had announced the ambitious scheme for Karachi while visiting the metropolis. Mr Umar was apparently not happy with a video clip of PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in which he had said the Sindh government would contribute Rs800bn to the KTP, with Islamabad covering the rest of the cost. Mr Umar claimed that in fact the centre would be picking up 62pc of the tab, while observing that “there should be no politics” over the KTP’s implementation.

Even the greatest optimist would admit that putting things right in this teeming metropolis is a gargantuan task. Apart from the logistical challenges of fixing Karachi’s water, sewerage and solid waste disposal problems — as the KTP envisages — getting the political stakeholders who claim to represent the city on the same page is easier said than done, given petty rivalries and at times competing agendas. Moreover, there is a wide gulf of mistrust between the PPP-run Sindh government, and the PTI-led centre; evidence of this was on display during Mr Umar’s presser in the city, as no PPP representative participated. Indeed, the Sindh government has reason to believe the centre is seeking to establish a toehold in Karachi through the KTP. When Mr Umar says that the 18th Amendment is a “hurdle” to the city’s uplift, the PPP’s misgivings are strengthened. In fact, centralised control is not the way forward and the spirit of devolution must be respected.

Having said that, the Sindh government must also realise that its local government law has failed, and failed miserably. Ever since the SLGA 2013 became law, Karachi’s degeneration has picked up pace as the provincial government snapped up nearly all the powers of the local bodies, leaving the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation a largely toothless body. The PPP upholds the rights of the provinces when criticising the centre’s apparent attempts to roll back devolution, yet is not ready to give the third tier the rights the Constitution promises. Instead of wrangling over the details of the KTP, all stakeholders must work for the uplift of Karachi by putting political point-scoring aside. Meanwhile, ‘silver bullet’ solutions may only provide temporary relief, as the civic duties the plan focuses on are part of every modern city’s permanent governance structure. In the long term, only an elected, empowered local government system for Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh can succeed in bringing this forsaken metropolis out of the morass of hopelessness and neglect, and on to the path of progress.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2020

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