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A solid system for Lahore

While there is general satisfaction with the LWMC, transparency and financial viability issues remain unsettled

A solid system for Lahore

The ongoing decade has witnessed Lahore being ranked among the cleanest cities of the country. It comes as no surprise then that the solid waste management system adopted by Lahore is being cited as a panacea to waste disposal problems of other cities still struggling to handle this menace.

Solid waste management (SWM) has always been a major challenge for governments. Traditionally, this subject was the domain of local governments, district and town administrations. Like some other government departments it fell victim to inefficiency, bureaucratic hurdles, ghost employment, lack of funds and resources, tussle between rival worker groups and excessive trade unionism.

The SWM department of Lahore was no exception. People were fed up with its generally unsatisfactory performance. This was evident by the high number of complaints against it that poured in from all over the city. The scale of the problem swelled with each passing day due to increasing population, uncontrolled urbanisation and consumer behaviour. This imposed serious risks to human health and environment, and there was a need to look for a proper solid waste management system.

When there are no proper waste storage and disposal facilities, it is only natural that garbage is dumped in open plots or thrown into drains, on the streets and along the roads, on railway lines and near playgrounds. This was exactly what was happening in Lahore. The then provincial government became uncomfortable with the sheer visibility of the problem putting a major dent in its popularity.

In the midst of this, the solid waste management system of the city was outsourced to private companies through an autonomous body – the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) – set up by the Punjab government. The LWMC has been formed with no share capital. It has been formed as a not-for-profit governed by a Board of Directors (BODs) headed by a chairman.

The central idea of the new set up was to outsource the waste management system. The contract for this was awarded to two Turkish companies – Albayrak and Ozpak – for seven years.

Arshad Farooq, a Lahore-based business management professional with interest in public-private partnership models, says the formula under which contracting companies are paid according to tonnage of waste they lift and dispose of has worked. Both Albayrak and Ozpak are aware of this – the more waste they dispose of, the more they will earn.

The manner in which certain decisions were taken regarding the functioning and financing of the LWMC has come under question, and has prompted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to intervene.

Farooq points out that disruption in service has only been observed when there has been a shortage of funds and delay in clearance of dues and payments of salaries. This situation, he says, has arisen multiple times during the past one year assumingly because of the reluctance of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to bear this financial burden. Several PTI ministers have said they are looking for ways to make the LWMC a revenue-generating entity rather than a funds-guzzling one, as allegedly envisaged by Shehbaz Sharif.

At the moment, Albayrak manages solid waste in 135 union councils, Ozpak in 117 and the LWMC in 22. Albayrak is paid $14 per ton of solid waste it carries to the dumping site whereas Ozpak is is paid $18 per ton because the latter has to travel longer distances to reach the landfill site in Lakhodair. Ozpak mainly operates in areas on the other side of Ferozepur Road up to Adda Plot on Raiwand Road.

The average cost of solid waste lifting in the city comes to $17 per ton. The labour cost paid in the form of salaries and emoluments, if any, is in addition to this. The LWMC claims to be the only SWM company in the country having a proper landfill site. It has also launched its hospital waste management system in selected hospitals, which it says will hopefully be extended to every public sector hospital in the city.

However, the manner in which certain decisions were taken regarding the functioning and financing of the LWMC has come under question, and has prompted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to intervene. Currently, some former LWMC officials are in the custody of the NAB and its records are under scrutiny. In a nutshell, the situation on ground is that though people are largely satisfied with the performance of the LWMC, transparency and financial viability issues stand to haunt it.

LWMC officials facing NAB inquiries are suspected of irregularities, financial misappropriation and recruitments in violation of merit. A forensic audit of the seven-year period of foreign contractors has also been conducted and fines imposed on the basis of its findings. An LWMC head also ordered deduction under the head of salaries from the amount payable to contractors to the tune of Rs 98.8 million on charges of employing ghost workers.

The next few months are crucial for the LWMC as the contracts of the Turkish companies are about to expire. The handing over of the UCs to the LWMC will be undertaken phase-wise, and will be completed by March 2020. The LWMC plans to float international tenders and enter into contracts with experienced and credible companies quoting competitive rates for waste disposal.

The LWMC spokesman, Jameel Khawar, says currently the company is working on a revenue generation plan to impose a user-fee for the services being provided to the citizens. It includes residential, commercial, industrial and institutional entities. Moreover, the LWMC is also working to execute the waste disposal projects for reuse and recycling of valuables to generate revenue for financial sustainability of the company. The possibility of generating energy from waste is also being looked into.

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He says several other recommendations by different government departments and officials to improve service delivery are being looked into. He says their objective is to improve the performance of the company without adding to the cost of operations.

The recommendations, he says, include bringing the contract period down from the existing seven years to a shorter period, awarding contracts to more companies to promote competition, giving powers to the LWMC to impose heavy fines in case of poor performance by contractors, and giving authority to the company to cancel contracts if contractors fail to fix things despite warnings.

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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