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The big question: Which local govt system works for Karachi?

KMC should have the power to raise revenue

SAMAA | - Posted: Sep 5, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
Posted: Sep 5, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

What kind of city government do we want for Karachi? If it is a city of 23m people, then surely it needs “special treatment” as a mega city.

The PPP says that if any comparisons need to be drawn on which system is better then the 2013 and 1979 local government laws should be put side by side. So I ask how Saeed Ghani thinks Sindh’s cities should be run and it strikes me that for what it is worth, he does not have much clarity. “We have both experiences,” he says. There is the Musharraf system. There is the PPP’s 2013 system. And that was not much of an answer.

Was the PPP’s sole vision to undo the system that gave the MQM power? Some bureaucrats argue that if a PPP mayor were ever to be elected, we’d see the KMC suddenly becoming more powerful.

Former city financial advisor Khalid Mehmood Shaikh’s radical solution to shut down KMC is hardly an option. He is of the school of thought that says Big Government is winding down in urban management across the world. “The administrative units are getting smaller worldwide,” he says.

While presenting a comparison of local governments across Pakistan at NED University in 2016, researcher Sumrin Kalia said: “Large metropolitan areas have been treated as typical local governments with limited authority.” In Karachi’s case, major metropolitan functions have been kept under provincial control. The result? We just saw them when the rains fell.

The people in power should understand that a metropolitan government like Karachi’s with a large tax base of 23 million people, and exceptionally rich ones too, should have the power to raise revenues (taxes or borrowing like municipal bonds). This is the only way it will be able to run.

But, as far as we can see, this is not the case. And so, we live in an age of Irony. It used to be that the physical ugliness of our world was by far eclipsed by the killings. The rotting streets, the frayed edges of buildings were just a landscape that seemed to be a natural outcome of a high homicide rate, a dystopic reflection. Those of us who could, busied ourselves with buying beautiful things to offset such unaesthetic urban living. But now we don’t even have the killings. All we are left with is a broken city, big government run by even bigger egos and an obscenely wealthy upper crust that for all its money lives in a dump.

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