Bureaucracy loses fight against elected representatives in Karachi’s Safoora

Published May 20, 2024
Pushcart vendors and stalls along University Road are charged Rs100 per day for running businesses in Safora Town.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Pushcart vendors and stalls along University Road are charged Rs100 per day for running businesses in Safora Town.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

• Municipal commissioner transferred on town chairman’s request
• Tussle emerged after private persons given authority over municipal affairs

KARACHI: While a tussle going on between the municipal bureaucracy of one of the towns of the metropolis that levelled serious allegations against its elected administration, ranging from “financial corruption” to interference of “outsiders” in official affairs, the Sindh government after transferring one of the most senior officials involved in the dispute has come up with a clear message that it will always stand with the elected representatives whenever a dispute arises between bureaucracy and political leaders.

Months-long stand-off between chairman of town municipal corporation (TMC) of Safoora Town Rashid Khaskheli and its municipal commissioner Munawar Hussain Mallah finally came to an end when the Sindh local government department a couple of days ago transferred the officer “with immediate effect” asking him to report to the department and posted Imtiaz Hussain Magsi as new municipal commissioner.

The fresh move from the Sindh government came on the “request” of the town chairman who was said to be “uncomfortable” with Mr Mallah, who also had his side of the story to share which contained allegations against the elected representatives of the town.

The dispute between the two sides started emerging a few months ago when, according to town officials, “some outsiders” started interfering in the town affairs.

The gulf further widened when more than a dozen officials of the town — most of whom are of director rank — signed a joint letter and sent to town commissioner Mallah levelling allegations against “outsiders” who claimed themselves to be as “representatives and coordinators” of the town chairman.

“For the last seven months, coordinator of town chairman Badshah Chandio and his team has been directly interfering in official affairs which is also causing serious financial damage to the town,” said the letter.

“We all are government servants and we can’t accept any unelected or private person as our boss. Similarly, we aren’t answerable to any private person. We request you to take up this matter with higher authorities and save us from doing any illegal job. Otherwise, we reserve the right to pursue the legal course to safeguard our rights and interests.”

The sources said that the situation further worsened when the town municipal administration came up with a strange idea to legalise commercial use of a section of main University Road which falls under its jurisdiction.

Hundreds of pushcarts and vendors, who have set up their businesses on University Road leading from Mausamiat bus stop to Safoora Chowrangi, have been given a kind of legal cover from the town administration to occupy the space for their commercial interest which otherwise is seen as encroachment on public space.

Each pushcart or vendor is charged Rs100 per day for setting up his business on University Road which has already shrunk to half due to ongoing construction and development work of Bus Rapid Transit - Red Line.

The town officials claimed that the initiative was part of several other “ideas conceived and executed” by the private persons in the town.

Surprisingly, according to officials, the fresh move to allow the pushcarts and vendors against Rs100 daily payment has not earned any “penny” for the town’s kitty.

Responding to Dawn queries, Mr Mallah, former municipal commissioner of Safoora Town, confirmed that he was aware of the recent move to allow vendors and pushcarts to set up their businesses on University Road, but he had refused to pass such orders.

“I don’t know who did this because the town isn’t earning any rupee from such a move,” he said.

When asked about his and other officials’ complaint against the “outsiders” interfering in official affairs, he said the higher authorities had been informed and now only they could take action or respond to this matter.

The town chairman Mr Khaskheli, though did not respond despite repeated attempts, Sindh Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani confirmed that it was a “request” from the town chairman to replace the town municipal commissioner and he responded positively only for keeping better coordination between the elected representatives and the town officials.

“One thing is very clear,” Mr Ghani told Dawn.

“If the town chairman isn’t comfortable with any of his officials, I would definitely regard the town chairman. This is only because in this whole mechanism, the town chairman is responsible and answerable to the people who have elected him. It’s not because he’s PPP town chairman, I have even transferred officials from those towns which are run by the Jamaat-i-Islami on the requests of their chairmen. So it’s a routine transfer and posting case which has nothing to do with any political interference.”

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

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