Only licensed professionals to upload applications
The Sindh Building Control Authority is going to launch in roughly two weeks an online one-window facility for anyone who wants to get construction permits for category 1 buildings in Karachi such as a house under 400 square yards.
In February the SBCA, which is otherwise dreaded as an institution of Kafkaesque bureaucracy, made the stunning promise that it would issue permits within 30 days. This would only be for Category I buildings which are houses on a plot of up to 399 square yards (ground plus one floor), any other building on a small plot of up to 120 sq yards and a non-obnoxious warehouse on up to 1,100 sq yards.
For anyone who saw the notice, the houses made sense. But what was a non-obnoxious warehouse? The conspiracy theorists might imagine that this was the SBCA’s sneaky way of making life easy for Chinese investors? Except when you look at the definition of non-obnoxious warehouse, you learn that it’s for things like books.
As it turns out, the SBCA is ‘testing’ its efficiency by saying it will give you a permit for a non-obnoxious warehouse in 30 days because this one indicator that helps economists gauge how business-friendly a city is. The World Bank has a score of 1-190 for Ease of Doing Business on which Pakistan ranks an abysmal 136 (India is 77). One of the other ways to measure this is seeing how difficult it is to get construction permits. The Bank measures that 1-10 and Pakistan scores 7 (India gets a 1). So if you want to attract investment, as presumably the Sindh government wants to, you have to say that you rank well on the EoBD index.
Right now, if you want to get permission to build in Karachi you have to go to the SBCA next to Civic Centre and physically give your application and files. The SBCA staff then manually goes through them. Your documents are not pre-screened or checked and often people don’t give the complete list which slows down the process. For example, the SBCA has to verify that the title to the land (owner’s name), which takes time.
The new system is computerized and online and is in a testing phase. This means that your application will be submitted after pre-screening and only if all documents are complete. You will then get an e-challan. Land ownership titles will be verified electronically wherever the land record is computerized. This is why the new system is hooked up to Larmis and Nadra’s Verisys. Larmis is the Land Administration & Revenue Management Information System which has computerized Sindh’s land records.
Right now the SBCA is in talks with banks so that people can pay the application fees at branches. The next step will be e-payment so you can do it from home. The online system will inform applicants by SMS and email and there will be a UAN number linked to the help desk. You will be able to also register complaints online. A client will be able to e-track the progress of the case as well.
The applications will be done by licensed professionals for their clients and all SBCA licensed professionals will be registered in the system (there will be a list of them online). They will have their own dashboard on the new software which will consist of the list of all Construction Permits for which they are engaged by owners to sign and supervise. If a licensed professional gets more than three (this number is not yet finalized) objections, they will get a charge sheet and their license may be suspended later on. This way the SBCA is trying to ensure that architects and construction engineers keep the process in line with regulations.
A licensed professional is needed as they are the ones familiar with the Karachi Building &Town Planning Regulations. The online system will be integrated with this to ensure files are properly uploaded through drop-down menu choices. Only registered people will be able to submit Construction Permit Plans. Checklists for pre-screening will be in line with the Risk-Based Category that will funnel down the construction permit application.
A Construction Permit will be approved within 30 days as long as there is no objection to the application. The idea is to give a decision in 30 days, whether accepted, rejected or objections issued.
The SBCA is starting with Category I. The application for a construction permit involves scanning and submitting them with the Plan. E-files will be generated.
The Category I application needs:
Demolition Permission in case of old structure & existing at site
ZP-II Form (Undertaking)
CNIC Copy (Owner/ Attorney)
Two passport-sized pictures (owner/attorney)
Current pictures of site
Acknowledgement of Possession
Forwarding Letter form Concerned Authority/ Lessor
Eight sets of drawings
This massive change to end the culture of paper-pushing, babus, registers and bribery through automation has been doggedly pursued by a woman: Asma Ghayoor, who runs the SBCA’s IT systems and department. She has wanted to do this for about a decade, but it was only when the World Bank came to work with the Sindh government on Ease of Doing Business two years ago, that she was able to finally see progress.
This initiative by the Government of Sindh has been midwifed by the Bank under its “Ease of Doing Business – Construction Permit Reforms” at a cost of around Rs150 million. The main building has construction going on the ground floor where a hall will be open to the public for the one-window facility. Computers will be set up with the software. There will be a help desk. And there will even be desks for the related departments such as Larmis.
If this effort goes through, it could bring about an entire work culture change at the SBCA which has been in the headlines for getting into trouble with the Supreme Court. Computerisation brings with it a level of transparency and accountability. There have been many forces in the Sindh government that have been opposed to any change in the status quo. With a one-window facility all that is threatened. It stands to have a domino effect, which will ultimately benefit Karachi city and the people who live in it.