City Council again outsources collection of utility charges to KE amid opposition protest

Published June 12, 2024
Opposition members protest against the resolution to allow KE to collect MUCT at the City Council session, on Tuesday.— Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Opposition members protest against the resolution to allow KE to collect MUCT at the City Council session, on Tuesday.— Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

• No tax on households consuming up to 100 units, says mayor
• Opposition leader vows to approach every legal forum against decision
• Council okays plan to collect toll tax from Karachiites for using city roads, bridges
• Art museum to be set up on Bagh Ibne Qasim land

KARACHI: Amid a noisy protest and slogans by opposition members, the City Council on Tuesday once again passed a resolution to outsource the collection of Municipal Utility Charges and Taxes (MUCT) to the K-Electric through its electricity bills.

The opposition Jamaat-i-Islami and a few members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf opposed the resolution and described the PPP-led local government’s act of allowing the “mafia like KE” to exploit Karachiites as “an attack on people’s interests”.

However, with the support of its allies including several disgruntled members of the PTI, the resolution passed with a majority vote.

The agreement between Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and the KE, which was originally signed in June 2022, will be effective from July after the fresh move from the City Council.

According to the agreement, the KE will collect MUCT from its domestic and non-domestic consumers living within the jurisdiction of KMC through their monthly power bills. The consumers will be charged as per category, which will be notified by the KMC from time to time.

The June 2022 agreement says: “(a) KE to deduct at source 7.5% on total monthly collect of MUCT. (b) KE to deduct at sources KMC monthly electricity bills from monthly collection of MUCT. (c) After deduction of (a) and (b) from the monthly collection of MUCT, 50% from the remaining monthly collected MUCT amount shall be deducted against the outstanding electricity dues of KMC. After deduction of (a), (b) and (c), the remaining amount shall be transferred to the designated account of KMC.”

After the session, Mayor Murtaza Wahab told a press conference that the rate of MUCT was reduced as there would be no tax on those KE consumers whose monthly electricity bill was up to 100 units.

He said only Rs20 would be charged in the KE bill from those who consumed 101 to 200 units and Rs 40 from those using electricity from 201 to 300 units.

KE comes under fire

The City Council session began with regular proceedings and then came the real agenda when the treasury bench proposed the resolution to approve the MUCT collection through the KE.

The opposition members resisted the move and called for a “detailed discussion” before reaching any consensus.

JI leader Advocate Saifuddin didn’t directly oppose the tax, but strongly challenged the decision to collect it through the power utility.

He said the KE was already “exploiting” Karachiites and responsible for several “wrongdoings”, including overbilling, imposing “fraudulent electricity price” and “snatching the basic right of living from the people” of the city.

“Even PPP ministers, including Nasir Hussain Shah, have openly accused the KE of overbilling and called its performance a failure. This move will rub salt into the wounds of Karachiites,” he added.

PPP leader Najmi Alam, however, defended the resolution. He said the tax proposed by the City Council was not new as it was originally introduced in 2008. Then, he said, it was collected through a private company which used to charge one-fourth of the total collection.

“Then we thought over this and decided to collect it through KE,” he said. “Even the court allowed us after multiple hearings. And who’s going to benefit from this all collected revenue? Obviously the people of Karachi and the local government system.”

He said that he would request the Karachi mayor to disburse the 70 per cent of the collected revenue among the city union committees and reserve 30pc for the KMC projects.

As the counting on the resolution began, the opposition members stood up, yelled at treasury benches and chanted slogans with the mayor requesting them to let the house run in a congenial manner.

The resolution was finally passed with majority 195 votes and the session was immediately called off but the opposition members did not leave the council hall and started a protest.

The hall reverberated with slogans of the opposition members against the KE calling it a “mafia and thief” and the PPP local administration a “local government with fake mandate”.

Earlier, JI’s Advocate Saifuddin was selected as the leader of the opposition in the City Council.

The council session, presided over by Mayor Wahab, also approved collection of a toll tax from vehicles using the roads and bridges of Karachi.

The house also approved the establishment of the Institute for Cultural Heritage Museum of Art and provision of 10 acres of Bagh Ibne Qasim land for this purpose.

Mayor accused of non-compliance with court order

Later, both treasury and opposition addressed separate press conferences at the KMC building sharing their sides of the story.

“The court had asked the mayor to build consensus on the MUCT and convince the City Council before taking up the resolution,” said Advocate Saifuddin. “But the mayor didn’t comply with the court orders. The opposition parties and their members were never consulted.”

“Murtaza Wahab has served as an administrator of Karachi so he has the mindset and he doesn’t like any consultation. He doesn’t like following democratic norms. We would resist and approach every legal forum against this MUCT,” he said.

The Karachi mayor, however, negated such claims. He referred to a City Council committee having representation of all parties, including opposition members.

Mayor Wahab said he had set up the committee only to build consensus and hear reservations of the opposition members before taking up the matter in the City Council.

“It’s so unfortunate that both JI and PTI members of the committee didn’t attend the meetings. It’s so unfortunate that the city is going to collect huge revenue through such a tax which will provide funding at UC level, but it is being resisted only for political point scoring,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2024

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