Karachi, a city of over sixteen million people, suffers from a municipal management crisis of epic proportions. Only 55 per cent of its daily water requirements get met, less than 60 per cent of its population has access to sewerage, and almost all its raw sewage is discharged untreated into the sea, plunging Karachi’s ranking among cities at the bottom of the Economist’s Global Livability Index.
With over 20 different agencies often at odds over jurisdiction, the city has been carved up in territories of misgovernance and mismanagement at a colossal scale. The Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has proposed replication of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local government system in Karachi where the mayor will be all-powerful and in charge of the district police and administration, as well as the departments of health, education, and the lower judiciary. The district mayor will also have fiscal autonomy to run the affairs of the local government. The plan reminds one of Karachi’s good times in the recent past. From 2001 to 2010, Karachi saw massive development when under Gen Musharraf’s devolution plan the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) was established and all powers of provincial departments were transferred to the fully autonomous CDGK. But under the Sindh Local Government Act 2013, the devolution was scrapped and the Sindh government assumed most of the local government functions. It was like a fall from grace.
Karachi’s mayor, Wasim Akhtar says the livability of the city suffered greatly when the powers of the mayor were clipped. Under the 2013 local government system, the mayor not only lost control over local development activities, buildings control and utilities, but worse, he lost control over his own district municipal bodies as well. CDGK towns were replaced with six district municipal corporations under the new law, and they were made autonomous and independent of the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC).
Welcoming the prime minister’s plan, Wasim says it is very important for the KMC to have control over health, education, environment, overall development and security. Under the present system, Karachi’s urban planning, land use and building control are looked after by different agencies: Sindh Building Control Authority, Lyari and Malir Development Authorities, Sindh High Density Development Board, Sindh Special Development Board, Directorate of Urban Policy and Strategic Planning, Board of Revenue Sindh and the Katchi Abadis Authority. Institutional fragmentation has led to the formal private and public sectors offering only one-third of the 75,500 new housing units required in Karachi each year. The gap is filled by the land mafia that acquires land and develops it unofficially. There is unplanned development across the city with unchecked and unbridled land mafia encroaching any public space it can lay its hands on, reducing the city to vertical, concrete structures or ‘heat islands’. This encroachment business has left the megapolis with only four per cent of urban green space.
Instead of being an essential function under the KMC, the solid waste disposal now falls under the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board which has not developed a single proper ‘landfill’. The issues of water and sewerage are looked after by the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) and the KMC, while the District Municipal Corporations (DMC) are reduced to managing the storm-water drains. The performance of the KWSB and the DMCs was such that for years they neglected storm-water drains which had gotten encroached upon, thanks to which Karachi was subjected to urban flooding every year following rains. It was only at the orders of the Supreme Court that funds were released and action to remove encroachments was initiated.
The myriad of departments looking after the municipal services in an uncoordinated, isolated and piecemeal fashion have turned the city management and delivery of municipal services into a formidable challenge, particularly when they have to function on funding provided by the provincial government. KMC is given 75 per cent of its funding by the provincial government while the DMCs have to rely on the provincial government for 87 per cent funding.
The mayor says the Sindh government is keeping all institutions under its control and he has not been given adequate funds and resources. “Because of scarce funding, the KMC is in deep financial crisis,” says Wasim. He adds that the Sindh government reduced by half the funds the KMC gets from the Octroi tax. This reduced its funds from Rs 12 billion to Rs six billion. He further stated that the KMC has 13 hospitals but due to lack of funding, they cannot offer quality healthcare.
Rejecting reports of non-payment of development funds to KMC, the Sindh Minister for Local Government Saeed Ghani says the provincial government gives regular grants in aid besides monthly allocations to the DMCs. He says the union council budget allocations have also been increased from Rs two lac per month to Rs five lac. The LG minister says the government of Sindh has disbursed Rs 38 billion to the local government in the last ten years. Similarly, Rs 72 billion were given as grant in aid, he adds. Ghani says this is besides the Rs 100 million allocated for the over 200 development schemes across the city. “Besides, we are providing a special grant of Rs430 million to KMC for its salaries on a monthly basis”.
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Expressing reservations over the prime minister’s local bodies plan, Saeed Ghani says a uniform local government system cannot be imposed all over the country due to the provincial autonomy guaranteed by the constitution. He said “under the 18th Amendment, every province is free to implement its own local government system.” However, he said there is always room for improvement and we can make changes to improve the system and to eliminate any weaknesses.
It is pivotal to give KMC the financial independence and unity of command of various agencies to turn Karachi into a more economically productive and livable city.