SC questions performance of Karachi city government

Updated 24 Sep 2020

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The three-judge bench appeared to be not impressed with the performance of the LG system in the recent past. — AFP/File
The three-judge bench appeared to be not impressed with the performance of the LG system in the recent past. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday raised serious questions over the performance and functions of the Karachi city government and wondered whether someone was eating away Rs5 billion in the name of ghost employees of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).

“Where the 20,000 employees of the KMC disappeared in the recent debacle when the citizens of Karachi braved rain and sewage gushing into their houses and they had to remain stranded on the roads for days,” Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed observed while heading a three-judge SC bench, which had taken up a set of petitions seeking empowerment and autonomy for local government (LG) institutions in Sindh.

The bench appeared to be not impressed with the performance of the LG system in the recent past.

The Supreme Court also admitted for hearing a petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf after overruling its office’s objection to it. The petition sought directives for the Sindh government regarding devolution of powers to the local government institutions under Articles 140-A, 3, 4, 9, 14, 16, 17, 19, 19-A and 25 of the Constitution.

Asks where 20,000 employees of KMC disappeared in recent debacle in the metropolis

The bench also decided to hear another petition filed by Asad Ali Khan through his counsel Nawazish Pirzada, requesting the court to declare illegal the premature dissolution of LG institutions in Punjab by promulgating the Punjab Local Government Act, 2019 before they could complete their constitutional tenure on Dec 31, 2021. Notices were also issued to Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan and Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin to assist the court.

While pointing towards senior counsel Salahuddin Ahmed, who was arguing the case of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, the chief justice regretted that what his clients had delivered in Karachi was a complete mess.

Former Karachi mayor Waseem Akhtar and Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar were also present in the courtroom when the chief justice made the observation.

“Why the employees of KMC and the sanitary staff were never to be seen,” the chief justice deplored, recalling how employees of these departments once used to commence their work before daybreak at three o’clock in the wee hours.

“There are ghost employees and somebody is eating away their salaries,” he regretted, adding that nothing would change even if a very good law was promulgated.

Salahuddin Ahmed said he was not here to defend the past performance of the MQM, adding that all he was asking for was to rationalise the LG system by making accountability enshrined in the law. Then there would be a chance that things may improve, he said.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, a member of the bench, regretted that the concept that systems would improve with the introduction of the LG system had not happened, adding that the past experience showed that the LG system deteriorated further when the political interest came since with political interest, financial interest also came.

The real issue, the chief justice observed, was a lack of coordination between different departments and institutions.

Salahuddin Ahmed argued that he was seeking a declaration that Sections 74 and 75 of the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013 and Section 18 of the Sindh Building Control Ordinance were ultra vires of the Constitution. It had already been held in the Imrana Tawana case judgement that the LG system was part of the definition of the state since these institutions were not the creation of any statutes rather itself a constitutional entity.

Therefore, their powers could not be taken away and placed among the nominees of the provincial government, the counsel contended, regretting that instead of further devolving the powers of the LG institutions under Article 140-A of the Constitution, the opposite had happened.

“It is utter paradox that the manifestos of all political parties of the country emphasise to give more powers to the local governments, but when it comes to implementation of the same, they favour centralisation of the powers,” he added.

The counsel said lots of powers had been taken away in Karachi through parallel legislation, adding that octroi and zila tax were abolished with an understanding that matching funds would be provided, but not a single penny came as a result of which “we saw havoc in Karachi during recent rains”.

He said the legislatures should allow the LG institutions to generate funds or revenue should be made available to such institutions so that they could function and deliver.

The chief justice, however, said the court was not going into factual controversies.

The counsel also furnished a commentary written by economist Dr Kaiser Bengali in which he highlighted that for any city to develop properly four functions — water supply, waste water disposal, solid waste disposal and transport — should be done by the local governments instead of leaving them to the private sector.

“It is only a game of sharing,” the chief justice observed, adding that it did not mean that giving powers to the local government would improve things which “we have seen in the present situation where things have become worse”.

Whatever system is given to Karachi or the province, the chief justice said, they would conduct it badly.

The court, however, asked the petitioners to furnish their synopsis supported by local as well as international laws and adjourned the proceedings to the second week of October.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2020