Urban management and local governments

February 11, 2024

The sale of local self-government needs to match the ground reality

Urban  management and local  governments


he urban governance landscape in Pakistan is rife with corruption, mismanagement and a failure to ensure service delivery. Big cities like Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi present a picture of chaos. Inadequate governance structures leave large numbers of citizens underserved.

The root cause of their current predicament lies in the unchecked expansion of these cities. The administrations are overwhelmed and find themselves incapable of comprehensively addressing the multifaceted issues that plague their constituents.

So can vary large cities be managed efficiently? Take a look at Tokyo, Japan’s most populous city, home to 14 million people. Urban management in Tokyo provides a contrast with the chaos witnessed in many Pakistani cities. The efficient service delivery is a testament to the strengths of a dectralised model.

The region has been divided into 62 municipalities, 26 cities, 23 special wards, five towns and eight villages. The 124 communities or prefectures workin unison, facilitating effective governance. The most populous precinct hosts 900,000 residents.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, has a fragmented local government structure.It has seven districts, 25 towns and 246 union councils. Its population is above 20 million. Each of its districts is overburdened.

District Easthas a population exceeding 3.9 million, far surpassing the sustainability limit. The ramifications of this are quite evident. There are heaps of unattended garbage, inadequate sanitation, scarce educational and healthcare institutions and frustrating traffic congestion.These problems have become a hallmark of Karachi’s urban landscape.

Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city,too, has more than 120 million inhabitants, facing similar problems. In terms of administrative structure, it has five tehsils, each having a larger population than its capacity for effective governance.

For various reasons, the administration is slightly more effective than in Karachi. However the nature of problems is similar.

The crux of the solution lies in decentralising governance and diminishing the scope of local governments. Redistributing residents into new cities can be a formidable challenge. A practical solution lies in establishing smaller local governments in every city, each responsible for about half a million people. These should provide essential civic amenities and run schools and hospitals in their jurisdictions.

A practical solution is establishing smaller local governments in every city, each responsible for about half a million citizens. These should provide essential civic amenities and run schools and hospitals in their jurisdictions. 

Having all kinds of government within these areas will streamline administrative processes, reducing the necessity for residents to traverse to distant locales for resolution of their problems.

This reformed administrative model promises manifold benefits. It can not only alleviate the hardships endured by citizens in commuting to remote areas but also initiatequicker problem resolution and development.

Consequence of this include conservation of resources like fuel and a cleaner urban environment, counteracting the toxic air quality prevalent in Pakistani cities that precipitates various health issues among its populace.

As Pakistan struggles with the ramifications of urban mismanagement, a restructuring of local governance holds promise. The envisioned reforms not only promise respite to citizens burdened by urban chaos but can also pave the way for sustainable and healthier cities, fostering a better quality of life for all.

In this pursuit of effective local governance, it is imperative to draw inspiration from successful models worldwide. Tokyo, with its intricate administrative framework, exemplifies the potential benefits of decentralisation.

The Tokyo metropolitan government divides the city into 62 municipalities, each with its own governance structure, ensuring that the needs of the residents are met efficiently.

The success of Tokyo’s model lies in the meticulous allocation of responsibilities and resources at the local level. Each municipality is tasked with providing civic amenities, managing infrastructure and addressing the unique challenges faced by its residents. This decentralised approach not only enhances the responsiveness of the government but also fosters a sense of community engagement and accountability.

The urgency of revamping local governance in Pakistani cities cannot be overstated. Drawing inspiration from successful models like Tokyo’s decentralised structure, the need for smaller, more responsive local governments tailored to the needs of their respective populations is evident.

This transformative approach not only holds the promise of immediate relief from urban woes but also lays the foundation for sustainable, inclusive and healthier urban environments. Embracing these reforms is paramount for ushering in an era of thriving citiesthat maintain high standards of service to their residents.

The writer is a media and communications professional. He has been working in the development sector. He tweets @Idrees_Haider

Urban management and local governments