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Tuesday February 27, 2024

What is so secret about KMC budget 2023-24?

Opposition members of the KMC City Council have no access to the budget documents, which are supposed to be in public domain

August 25, 2023

Imagine the federal or provincial governments approving their annual budget but keeping the budget document a secret with neither the opposition nor the media given access to the budget documents. There would surely be a strong denunciation if that happened.

Something similar has happened in reality in the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). Its annual budget of Rs38.198 billion was passed on June 14 in abject silence, by then KMC administrator Dr Saifur Rehman through a resolution. Even though Murtaza Wahab took the oath of the Karachi mayor on June 19 and later presided over a session of the City Council, till date, the media and the opposition members of the KMC City Council have no access to the budget documents, which are supposed to be in public domain.

After The News’ request for the budget documents was repeatedly shunned by the KMC, this scribe had to invoke the right to information (RTI) law on Thursday to get the documents.

Even the municipality did not issue any press release when its budget was approved. Although the KMC director media, Ali Hassan Sajid, maintained that the KMC had released a press release announcing the approval of its budget, The News thoroughly checked his claim and found that it did not receive any media statement regarding the budget of the KMC.

Invoking RTI law

Traditionally, when the KMC’s budget is passed, whether the municipality is under the control of an appointed administrator or an elected mayor, a council resolution regarding the budget and the budget documents are shared with the media. The budget documents are also uploaded on the KMC website.

This time around, the budget was passed in a clandestine manner. The News approached the media department of the KMC several times in a bid to obtain the details of the budget, budget resolution and budget documents, but failed.

On Wednesday, August 23, when this scribe contacted the budget department of the KMC, they refused to share the budget files, saying that the media department should be contacted for that.

When the media department also excused, this scribe filed a right to information (RTI) request with the KMC’s budget department, media department and the mayor secretariat, demanding the council resolution for the budget approval and budget documents for the year 2023-24.

After receiving the RTI request, the media department of the KMC immediately shared the council resolution and the budget layout, but did not share the budget documents. As per the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016, the KMC and mayor are bound to respond to the request within 15 working days.

If the request is not answered within 15 days, an internal review request could be filed and even if that is not responded within 30 days, the matter would go to the Sindh government-mandated information commission, which has the powers of a civil court.

Law violations

According to the Section 60 of the Sindh Councils (Budget) Rules 2017, the copies of the local bodies’ budget have to be forwarded to all members of the council concerned for consideration of budget.

The KMC media director told The News that they had dispatched a copy of the budget documents to Karachi Jamaat-e-Islami Emir Hafiz Naeemur Rehman, who is also a member of the City Council. When asked why the documents were not shared with other council members and the media, he did not respond.

The section 64 of the rules also clearly states that the sanctioned budget “shall be treated as a public document and shall be made available for public inspection and publication of its extracts in the national newspapers.” This rule has clearly been violated by the KMC as the budget documents have not been made public despite the passage of more than two months after the budget was approved.

The mayor has also seemingly been violating the Sindh Local Government Act 2013, the Section 110(5) of which states that when any council assumes office under the act for the first time, “its budget relating to the remaining period of that financial year shall be prepared by the council after resumption of office, as far as may be, in accordance with the provision of this section.”

According to the law, the mayor needs to present the budget before the City Council for its approval. The opposition also made the same demand in the maiden session of the City Council but Wahab did not let the budget be presented.

Qazi Sadrudin, a City Council member of the JI, believes that since the Pakistan Peoples Party does not have a simple majority in the City Council, Wahab was afraid that the budget would be rejected there if the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and JI members voted against it and if that happened, it would be a question mark over his legitimacy as the mayor.

‘Backdated’

Talking to The News, Sadrudin also alleged that then KMC administrator Dr Saifur Rehman passed the budget backdated to June 14 after the mayor’s election was held on June 15.

Sadrudin said Dr Rehman ideally should not have passed the budget and let the elected City Council do it because the financial year ended on June 30 and there were around 10 days left for the year to end when Wahab took the oath and assumed the mayoral office on June 19.

The budget could have been passed after the mayor took his oath on any day before June 30, the JI City Council member said.

The News tried to contact Dr Rehman multiple times to get his version, but he did not respond. A KMC official, however, said that legally Dr Rehman had all the authority to pass the budget until he was the administrator and there was “no legal binding on him to wait for the elected council to assume the office.”

A JI City Council member, Advocate Saifuddin, had an opposing view. He said that legally, the budget had to be passed by an elected council, not an appointed administrator. It was illegal for an administrator to pass the budget when the financial year had not ended and especially when the elected council was about to be formed, he said. The News repeatedly called the Karachi mayor for his version but he did not respond.