Karachi’s mayor doesn’t have power but MQM did for a long time
Karachi’s mayor may be complaining he doesn’t have power now, but his party sure did have it for a long time. Did they think it would last forever in a province where they had competition from the PPP? The way I interpret it, the MQM had the chance and blew it. It gave the PPP too much ammunition—and I’m not talking Tula Tokarev here.
“Does the MQM have any performance that it says it has done well [that we listen to their demand to] give [them] more things?” asks Saeed Ghani, who I interviewed when he was local government minister. I had asked about the PPP taking powers away from the MQM-strong city government.
Saeed Ghani tries to make an argument. Perhaps it was a good thing Musharraf merged all these bits and pieces into KMC, he says. “But you have to see the consequences of 2001. Have you ever heard of China cutting before 2001? It came after 2001. Then encroachments on parks and playgrounds began after 2005. I am not from the Jamaat-e-Islami and I have a lot of differences with them but this was not during Niamatullah Khan’s time.”
I do not agree with how the PPP and its Sindh government has managed many aspects of Karachi’s institutions but this point I do see. Saeed Ghani is right when he says, “Anyone can do construction and development, if somebody is getting money they can do a lot of things. You can make flyovers, roads, you can do it all. But the destruction of Mustafa Kamal, you can’t undo it.” Whatever was built in Karachi from 2001 to 2010, legal or illegal, cannot be broken down. Thousands of people now live on encroached land. Parks and playgrounds have disappeared under buildings. “What they did it was such a big destruction that can’t be undone.”
“A provincial government also has to see if we give these powers, and someone is demanding it, they should have the vision of what to do with it,” argues Ghani. The PPP is not impressed with the MQM’s track record and doesn’t buy into its vision. So the mayor can say it till kingdom come that he wants control of certain departments, but as far as the PPP is concerned, that ship has sailed.
Another jibe that the PPP takes at the MQM is on the health of the institutions that the MQM was in control of when it was in power. Indeed, when I look back at how the MQM ran Karachi, I find it hard to argue that it was an opportunity, or in the very least their responsibility to have gone around fixing the broken institutions. “Study KDA before 2001, and then after 2001,” says Saeed Ghani. “KDA used to be very good. It was profit-making; it generated funds. It has a lot of money. So if Mustafa Kamal ran it well, it should have become better.”
The problem with this claim is that it needs to be verified. The financial health of the KDA is another can of worms and beyond the scope of this essay. But this jibe only strengthens my belief that performance evaluation is missing overall in Karachi. Public Accounts Committee audits are not the full measure of the way a department is working. One small, perhaps temporary solution, has been the citizen report card. The World Bank once had one on the water supply in Karachi.
We are missing internal monitoring, citizen feedback and checks and balances. For his part, Saeed Ghani says that he started a monitoring mechanism of local government. He has officers who monitor the local councils, check their records and prepare their reports, something that was not happening earlier on. “I discovered a lot of things but they are still coming in,” he said. “At least they should feel that someone is monitoring them. Otherwise they do whatever they please.” If he finds that they are not doing their job properly, the LG minister’s office pulls the plug, freezes their accounts. A commission was activated to deal with cases. If the officers did not show up, they were suspended.
But the same argument holds true for the MQM. It has been arguing that the PPP is not interested in Karachi because it doesn’t have the vote bank here. Here the PPP’s weak flank is exposed that undercuts its decision-making on choice of local government mechanisms and delivery. The monsoon rains, garbage crisis and fly infestation led to an uproar that sewers and garbage were neglected.
The MQM’s line is that the people of Karachi do not vote for the PPP. Persistent cases of alleged corruption have done much to discredit the PPP top-tier in the eyes of those who want to believe that they are corrupt. This allows the MQM to lay it on thick and fast: The PPP is too corrupt to deliver in Sindh, let alone Karachi.
To this, Saeed Ghani says that the proof is in what they are spending on Karachi. “This year the local government’s total development portfolio is Rs35b. Out of this 65% or Rs22.5b is for Karachi,” he said. Eighty percent of the new schemes are for Karachi. It is also spending Rs12.8b in foreign project assistance and Rs3.3b from the district development kitty.
This comes to a total of Rs125b this year. And the CM is asking the World Bank for money to fix the KWSB because that disaster needs Rs100b.
He says that they are expecting the WB to give them Rs235b in five years with an average of Rs47b per year. A lot of that money, Rs22b, is for hospitals in Karachi. “We are spending for Karachi’s people,” he says. “It is a misperception.”
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