‘Solution to Karachi’s problems lies in financially autonomous local govt’

Updated 26 Sep 2020

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ZAHID Farooq speaks at the session on Friday.—White Star
ZAHID Farooq speaks at the session on Friday.—White Star

KARACHI: While terming the recently announced prime minister’s Rs1.1 trillion Karachi Transformation Package nothing but a lollipop, speakers at a programme on Friday said that a city, which sustains the whole country, deserves better.

They said its chronic issues could only be addressed by a financially autonomous local government representing its people.

The discussion on ‘What should be the priority of the Karachi Transformation Package’ was held at the Pakistan-American Cultural Centre on Friday.

Organised by Karachi Citizens’ Forum (KCF), the event also saw speakers demanding a census reflecting the actual population of the metropolis so that the city could develop on a sound foundation.

Need stressed for transparency and accountability in spending of funds for PM’s package

“The package is of no consequence. The city generates [revenue] 10 times more [than] this amount. Second, the announcement should have been backed by thorough planning, which isn’t the case. In fact, the prime minister’s announcement was soon followed by provincial government’s criticism, reflecting poor communication and trust deficit between the two governments,” said Syed Khawar Mehdi, associated with Commo­nwealth Karachi, a think tank.

Even a fair allocation to the city would have made little difference given the scale of corruption rotting the whole governance system, he regretted.

Revive Karachi as one district with 18 towns

He also emphasized the need for devolving administrative powers to the grass-root level, restoring Karachi’s status of one district with 18 towns and bringing all municipal services under one mayor.

“[Unfortunately] There is no political will. The prime minister should open his eyes and the chief minister develop [some] empathy. It’s about Pakistan ... a city that sustains all of us,” he said.

Concluding his comments, Mr Mehdi warned that external and internal enemies could take advantage of Karachi’s simmering issues and exploit the situation. “Karachi’s beauty and strength lies in its ethnic diversity but it’s also threatening for some.”

Recalling Karachi’s devastation in the aftermath of monsoon rains last month, KCF convener Nargis Rahman said it exposed shortcomings of the civic infrastructure, demanding representation of city’s stakeholders including seasoned urban planners, architects and representation from the labour groups in the committee established for the implementation of Karachi package.

The package, she pointed out, won’t uplift Karachi unless there was transparency and accountability.

She also talked about how the city could make sustainable progress and said, “We need people [to lead Karachi] from the people to take care of its people. Even a good administrator is not a solution to city’s long-standing problems.”

Plugging leakages may save 100mgd

Zahid Farooq of the Urban Resource Centre said the city contributed over 90 per cent and 65pc revenue to the provincial and the federal government, respectively. But, what it received in return was peanuts.

“Today, Karachiites are deprived of basic civic utilities including clean drinking water and a functional waste management and transport system. If the government just plugs leakages in the distribution system, it could save up to 100mgd of water daily that would help address water shortages in the city,” he said.

Criticising the Karachi package, architect Sameeta Ahmed said while half of its amount was meant for already functional projects, the federal government had not yet shared complete details of the package.

She also called for a technical assessment of the urban flooding the city experienced last month as encroachment of water channels was a major reason behind it.

Dr Qaiser Sajjad of the Pakistan Medical Association highlighted the adverse impact of degraded civic infrastructure especially after the monsoons on public health, calling upon the representatives of civil society to build pressure on the government to deliver.

Architect and founder Chhaoon Komal Pervez spoke about personal responsibility and said small efforts carried out with strong commitment could make a big difference.

“Since 2015 we have planted 10,000 trees in Karachi. A tree for plantation should be at least five years old so it has better survival chances,” she said, adding her team worked without government support.

Industrialist Mirza Ikhtiar Baig and film director Amna Khan also spoke.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2020