Governance matters

Published May 18, 2024
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi

HAPLESS Karachiites are routinely fed with false hopes and promises from multiple sources. The president recently chaired a meeting, advising the Sindh government to take strict action against criminals. Not long ago, the prime minister visited and reassured the metropolis’ stakeholders on various governance and policy matters. Provincial government members and the mayor frequently highlight important issues and their resolve to address them. Yet, nothing changes.

Take water supply in the city, for insta­nce. In the scorching temperatures, the supply status remains unchanged. Many central city areas and peri-urban locations are still dry. The same options of obtaining water from informal vendors persist on mutually negotiated terms. Speaking to locals, one witnesses near-absolute hopelessness and no faith in the prevailing governance system.

Let us consider law and order. It is primarily the responsibility of the provincial administration. There is no reduction in street crimes and robberies. According to a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan study, 90,000 incidents of street crime occurred in 2023. Many people lost their lives resisting robberies.

This situation demands a multipronged, comprehensive response, yet the provincial government relies on few interventions. The Safe City project is the most notable. For a city of over 20 million people, effective surveillance and crime prevention require engaging various stakeholders. Residents, shopkeepers, business owners, transporters, builders, trade bodies, faith-based organisations, political parties, and common interest coalitions must be involved to combat rising crime.

Vested interests do not want to follow a valid city plan for Karachi.

In the spirit of good governance, the government should create a steering committee representing all prominent stakeholders. This platform can deliberate on city affairs, particularly law and order. Through dialogue and discussion, useful solutions can evolve for effective implementation. To legitimise this platform, the government must establish an efficient mechanism for implementing the recommendations.

For many years, the city has been run on an ad hoc basis, without a consensus vision, goals, or strategies. Karachi lacks a valid city plan and urban management strategy. The Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020, prepared in 2006-07, was shelved by successive regimes. On the directive of the Supreme Court, it was notified as an official document shortly before its expiration.

Vested interests do not want Karachi governed by a legally valid, technically sound plan. Such a plan would require the administration to make decisions on city expansion, infrastructure, transportation, housing, community development, ecological assets, health and education facilities, enterprise development, and heritage management, according to its prescriptions. It would end discretionary decisions on real estate development, random land allocation, and costly urban infrastructure projects that benefit only a few.

Moreover, a valid city plan would make various government units accountable to the people and stakeholders. Time-bound delivery on articulated targets would be­­come the performance benchmark for public agencies. Unscrupulous politicians and clandestine interest groups resist streamlined management following this scientific process used in progressive cities worldwide.

Our leaders often lament the effects wi­­thout examining the causes. Managing encroachments is a case in point. Munici­palities and land management agencies regularly and ruthlessly evict hawkers and vendors from corridors of movement. These drives serve no pur­p­ose other than extra­cting informal dividends from the affected, as the same hawkers return after a few weeks. We need a proper hawker and vendor management plan to enable small-scale entrepreneurs, with little or no reso­urces, to earn a living.

Special zones should be developed where hawkers and vendors can legally operate under regulatory control. In busy markets and commercial zones worldwide, hawkers add commercial choices for shoppers. In 2014, the Indian parliament promulgated a Street Vendors Act to protect vendors’ livelihoods and outline legal spaces for them. Many other countries have similar arrangements from which we can draw appropriate feedback. Vendors sell merchandise to clientele that cannot afford medium- and large-scale retail prices, often selling on goodwill and credit, which benefits the urban poor. Such socially desirable enterprises must be protected and supported in our governance norms.

For Karachi, a holistic approach with urban planning, stakeholder engagement, and small enterprise protection is essential. Transparency, accountability, and inclusivity can transform the city from a hub of despair to one of opportunity and resilience.

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2024

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