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September 8, 2020

‘Karachi suffers from divided political ownership’


September 8, 2020

Stressing on creating integrated urban governance, senior economist Dr Kaiser Bengali has recommended that the constitution be amended with a chapter on the local government system to make it functional.

Addressing an online seminar titled ‘Addressing Urban Chaos: Case for Integrated Governance’, Dr Bengali said on Monday that the constitution has chapters only on the federal and provincial governments, outlining the structures, powers and functions of the two levels of government, but the local government is mentioned more as a footnote.

Dr Bengali, who also advises the Sindh and Balochistan chief ministers on planning & development and finance, said the local government system has become a football between and within the military and civilian governments for control of power and patronage.

“A chapter in the constitution outlining the structure, powers and functions of the local government is a workable solution,” he said. He recommended making at least four city metropolitan authorities — Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Shaheed Benazirabad — with an integrated management system and autonomy as regards the intra-city affairs. The economist said that these city metropolitan authorities should control the affairs of revenue (land management), law & order, disaster management and regional planning & development.

The local administration may be responsible for urban spatial planning; building control; housing; water supply & wastewater disposal; household electricity & gas supply; urban roads, pavements & street lights; solid waste disposal; public transportation; traffic management, control & policing; health facilities; schools & colleges; vocational & technical institutions; libraries; industrial estates; commercial plazas; parks & playgrounds; mosques; graveyards; etc.

Dr Bengali said Karachi suffers from divided political ownership: on the one hand the city is the capital of Sindh, but on the other, there is a politico-ethnic divide that has hampered its development.

“The Pakistan Peoples Party [PPP] is the dominant political power in Sindh, but it has a small vote bank in Karachi, so the PPP, which is in control of the provincial government, can’t have the political incentive to devolve power to the city and, thus, lose control. Resultantly, the rest of urban Sindh also suffers.”

He regretted that the people of Karachi suffered a lot during the recent rains. All of Sindh’s cities and towns, including the provincial capital, are in a sorry state of physical infrastructure, and the provision of civic services are in a state of collapse, he remarked. “At least half of the urban population in Sindh doesn’t have daily water supply, and that too is polluted! In many areas drinking water co-exists with sewage and garbage in their neighbourhoods.” He said that there is a sorry state of transport in the urban centres, and the people have to commute via public buses, which are in a bad condition.

“Half of Karachi presents an 11th-century look, but Larkana is the prime embarrassment because its neighbour Mohenjo Daro was managing its water and sewage much better 5,000 years ago.”

At least five essential services — water supply, wastewater disposal, solid waste management, electricity and public transport — are in the worst condition in the urban areas of Sindh, he pointed out.

The reasons for broken civic services are the fragmentation of service delivery organisations, constitutional deficiency and political divide, which are leading to a lack of investment, a lack of planning and a lack of managerial attention, he lamented.

“Adding to the chaos in Karachi are the cantonments and the Defence Housing Authority [DHA], which are supra-federal institutions that are a law unto themselves,” he said, adding that the cantonments can sanction high-rise constructions without reference to water supply and wastewater disposal, local electricity supply and traffic generation.

He also said the DHA violates basic rules of urban planning, even though it has ignored the natural laws of gravity flows. The land reclamation has distorted the natural Malir River flows and Arabian Sea currents, he added. He suggested that for the first five years, mayors and all departmental heads be appointed by the provincial government, but after the incubation period, mayors be elected by holding elections.

Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research, which had organised the seminar, welcomed the allocation of the Rs1.1 trillion package for Karachi.