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September 9, 2020

The Karachi package

Opinion

September 9, 2020

The much-vaunted Karachi Transformation Package of Rs1100 billion has been announced by the federal government. The package is aimed at addressing the inveterate problems of the city. The recent rain calamity also triggered a blame game – with the MQM unleashing a torrent of criticism targeting the rural-based PPP and the PPP holding the ethnic party responsible for the complicated problems faced by the metropolis.

The availability of funds for the package is also being debated; PML-N leader Khawja Asif says the development budget of the federal government is only Rs700 billion and has wondered how Islamabad would generate this huge amount. The slowdown in economy lends credence to such doubts while the federal government’s inability to meet the revenue targets also fuel speculations about its claim to help the largest city of the country financially.

But before the government launched its ambitious transformation initiative, would it not be appropriate to account for the money that was already taken in the name of development by various circles. For instance many on social media claim that PTI MNAs of Karachi were lavished with development funds. So, it should be clarified how much money was received by legislators. MQM legislators should also inform the people if they also received any amount from the federal or provincial government.

The PPP claims it allocated more than Rs20 billion every year during the tenure of the current city government besides paying bills of utilities for some of the civic bodies. Former mayor Waseem Akhter should confirm whether he received such a huge amount and where it was used.

One may recall in the united MQM that emerged after the incendiary speech of its founder, MQM leader Farooq Sattar asked about the billions of rupees that Waseem Akhter allegedly received from the Sindh government for the city. IIf Akhter is clear, he should clarify his position over the issue of this fund. All the district chairpersons of the MQM should also give a detailed briefing of the funds that they received during their tenure and the number of development works that they undertook with these funds. They should also give a break up of this fund besides showing the media the works that they carried out.

The PPP also needs to be accounted for. It cannot exonerate itself by claiming that the city was run by MQM and that it bears no responsibility. Barring a few exceptions, a number of party officials and public office-holders have what critics call a tainted reputation. A simple comparison of the wealth of all those related to the party before and after 2008 can solve so many mysteries related to this magical wealth rise. The PPP produced people with impeccable character in the past, and needs to assign responsibilities to leaders like these to counter the nefarious propaganda unleashed against it.

It is interesting to note that the party blames the MQM and the PTI for the plight of Karachiites but what excuse can it offer for the deplorable conditions of the city's rural areas that have also thrown a blanket support behind the party of Bhutto. Lyari, a bastion of the PPP for decades, is still considered one of the most backward areas of the metropolis. Areas like Landhi, Malir, Korangi, Baldia, Orangi and other parts of the city do not offer a rose picture either.

It is not only the less developed areas of Karachi that speak volumes about the performance of the PPP but the interior areas of Sindh and miserable conditions of its inhabitants also fly in the face of the PPP's claims of serving the people. Hepatitis has become an epidemic in parts of Sindh. Water-borne diseases are widespread. The inadequate sanitation and poor sewerage system put a question mark over the billions of rupees spent on the development of the PPP power base.

It is true that the party set up state-of-the art hospitals in parts of the province. It is also correct that it upgraded more than 12 district headquarters hospitals besides working for maternity health. The alacrity with which it dealt with the corona epidemic is also worth appreciating. The free treatment at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases in Karachi and National Institute of Child Health has also brought much praise but these steps are not enough for a province of more than 30 million.

The PPP, MQM, PTI and other stakeholders should strive for a genuine devolution plan whereby local representatives have sufficient powers to address the issues plaguing the city. Our national leaders love to have all powers. It is not only the PPP that relied on the colonial commissionerate system but the democratic government of the N League in Punjab also adopted this dictatorial colonial method where people are not considered citizens but subjects. The PTI and other parties also have a disdain for representatives of the local bodies and love to run civic affairs through influential parliamentarians and unaccountable bureaucrats.

All the stakeholders of the city should realise that mega projects that enrich a few contractors and influential politicians will not resolve the problems of the city. This huge amount of Rs1100 should be spent on providing pure drinking water which will prevent the spread of water-borne diseases, lessening burden on public health entities. A substantial amount should also be spent to revamp the sanitation and sewerage systems. A comprehensive master plan should be made. We should also get rid of flyovers, underpasses and other capital intensive projects that not only displace millions of people but also contribute to the concretization of the city which leads to rise in heat. All government properties in the city should clearly be marked to protect them against encroachment. The city’s parks should be rehabilitated and slums should be converted into either high rise buildings or decent residential areas with the dwellers of informal settlements getting lodging there on priority basis.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]