When Wasim Akhtar had taken over as mayor of Karachi in August 2016, he had exclaimed: “The city of lights has suffered already, I will not let it suffer any more,”. But four years later he left that office in tears frustrated with the powerless position he had to serve in. Now the question on all minds is: Will the new mayor suffer the fate of Wasim Akhtar or he will be the Mayor Karachi needs? W
Karachi is Pakistan’s largest metropolis with an estimated population of more than 25 million, yet its last census shows its population to be around 15 million. And here in lies the first challenge on the road towards a new mayor.
Will Sindh be able to hold LG elections in time?
The term of the elected local government representatives in the Sindh province, including Karachi’s Mayor Wasim Akhtar, expired on Aug 29. They left the offices after completing their four-year constitutional terms.
Administrators are now to be appointed by the provincial government in place of the elected local government representatives. These administrators will assume responsibilities as executive heads of the local government agencies across the province till the local government elections take place in Sindh. As per the law, such elections are supposed to be held within the next 60 days ie before October 30th – but almost all political analysts are openly expressing doubts that such elections will be held in stipulated time.
Sindh government was supposed to appoint administrators to replace the elected office holders. Few names of grade-21 officers were being paraded on media but till the evening of Aug 31, there was no consensus. Some being mentioned were reluctant.
Wasim Akhtar: Karachi’s troubled Mayor?
Wasim Akhtar, the former mayor, had come to office with high hopes in August 2016, but his voice was choking with emotions when he delivered his farewell speech on Monday, 25th August. While addressing media and the public in his departure press conference, Akhtar claimed that the Sindh government did not let him do the development work in the city that he had planned.
“I have been “crying” for the last four years over Karachi’s administrative issues, but neither the president, nor the prime minister, chief secretary or local government minister responded to any of my letters”, he complained, adding that he had written “thousands” of letters. He has actually shared copies of hundreds of letters, with dates and reference numbers, with the media.
Wasim Akhtar had written these letters, on specific administrative issues, to Sindh Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, relevant ministers and to the President and Prime Ministers of Pakistan from 2016 onwards – but apparently without getting any response or relief.
In addition to these letters, the former mayor further said that he had filed a petition in the apex court, seeking empowerment of the local bodies, since it was his belief that the solution to the provincial capital’s problems lay in empowering the local bodies. Akhtar said it was his struggle to introduce amendments in the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013 and the authorities had now started taking notice of the situation.
It seems the former mayor has had a rather difficult term – one with an adequate amount of struggle from his end. The mayor stated, while addressing the media at the head office of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), that he had come to power with a mandate larger than the one secured by the Sindh chief minister.
He deplored that despite having that mandate, no one has been listening to him. “I am not being dramatic. I have spent the last four years in stress because of the Sindh government and the chief minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah.” In that respect he was right. It was not the first time that he protested against Sindh government in public.
Considering the current rain spells in Karachi, the former mayor gave details of the funds KMC had received for the cleanliness of rain drains. Wasim said that he got only Rs.500 million once, and that too on the directives of the Supreme Court. “Drains of Karachi cannot be cleaned until there is a proper garbage lifting system. Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah himself admitted that the KMC was not empowered,” he argued.
Sindh Local Govt Act 2013: violation of the Constitution?
According to Wasim Akhtar, local bodies are deliberately made powerless. Not only in Karachi, but local bodies across the province cannot perform their functions, as authority has not been devolved upon them by the provincial government.
According to outgoing Mayor, the Sindh Local Government Act 2013, greatly reduced powers of the mayor turning the office of the mayor into a faded image of what it was under the 2001 Local Government Act. Naimat Ullah Khan (2002-2006) and Mustafa Kamal known for their services to the city of Karachi had worked under the previous 2001 Act crafted by the Musharraf Government.
Wasim Akhtar, outgoing mayor, explains that the Karachi Development Authority (KDA), Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KW&SB), Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA; renamed to SBCA), the Karachi Revenue Department, the Karachi Land Registry, KMTA, the Karachi Department of Transportation (now SMTA), and the KSWMA (now SSWMA) were removed from Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and merged into the KDA.
The Karachi Development Authority (KDA) itself was divided into the Malir and Lyari Development Authority. Most powers of these city agencies were taken over by the Sindh provincial government for instance by creation of Sindh government bodies like Sindh Building Control Authority. (SBCA)
The Mayor now has to ask the Sindh Government for the funds, and has to form a joint account with the Commissioner of Karachi, whose approval is required for any funds to be used. Independent observer organisations like PILDAT and FAFEN argue that not granting adequate powers to the mayor is in direct violation of Article 140(A) of the Pakistani Constitution.
Article 140A of the constitution gives mandatory direction to provinces to establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.
Not granting adequate powers to the mayor is in direct violation of Article 140(A) of the Pakistani Constitution. According to some media reports, Syed Murad Ali Shah, in recent parleys with central government, has agreed that the Sindh Local Government Act 2013 would be amended to further strengthen the local bodies. However at this stage there is no clarity.
Wasim Akhtar not foreseeing LG elections any time soon
However, Wasim Akhtar disclosed that these “wadera-minded people” do not want a local government system because this system makes democracy stronger.
A few days ago, while talking to reporters, he had shared that his tenure was about to end and he was not foreseeing the next local government elections to be held anytime soon.
After mayor Mustafa Kamal’s tenure ended in 2010, PPP-govt took five years to hold the LG elections across the province, that too on the orders of the Supreme Court in 2015, and local government elections were finally held on 5 December, 2015.
Why Monsoon rains play havoc with Karachi?
After every monsoon rainfall, a majority of the roads and streets of the metropolis are filled with sewage water, which has damaged the infrastructure and continues to cause a traffic gridlock on almost all the main arteries of the city.
As per experts, there are two main reasons for the accumulation of sewerage water on the roads: a deteriorated sewerage infrastructure and blockage of sewerage lines by rags, bags of sand, and solid bricks placed by some construction units.
The obstruction of the sewerage system is becoming a sensitive issue with every passing day with the responsible parties; Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, DMCs and KMC have not done anything to remedy the problem.
Former Mayor Waseem Akhar tried to be active with his chairmen to start the construction work of roads, carpeting of streets and the revamp of sewerage lines in different areas of metropolis.
Few months ago, garbage disposal had become such a big issue that central government had to intervene through Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) to help clear the trash. Ali Zaidi, Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, who is from Karachi, lead the campaign raising almost Rs. 100 million from private sources to clean the city. However that brought him into head on collusion with Sindh government that accused him of undue interference in the province. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has recently asserted that his party’s government in Sindh would control the administrative affairs of Karachi.
Thus there remains a serious tussle between the Sindh province and local government over the administrative affairs of the city. Karachi is now probably the only large metropolis anywhere in the world where a provincial government wants to control what is considered solely the domain of a city government.
After Mustafa Kamal’s tenure ended in 2010, PPP-govt took five years to hold the LG elections across the province and that too under directive of Supreme Court. While there may not be such a delay again but given the jealous control Sindh government wants to exercise over Karachi, the question remains what powers the new local governments and Mayor have? Will Karachi get the kind of mayor it needs?
Will Karachi get the powerful mayor it needs?
The position of mayor has become a hotly debated issue – a 20 hour long marathon tri-party meeting led by Asad Umar, MQM and PPP, on 17th August agreed that the new mayor of Karachi will have more powers. According to media reports, even state institutions participated in that long discussion.
However within 24 hours, Chief Minister Sindh, Murad Ali Shah, publicly disavowed the commitments media said were made in that marathon meeting between PPP, PTI and MQM. He was found saying that Sindh can not be persuaded to come up with a local government act which is not provided by other provinces. Sources close to Waseem Akhtar point out that even in the try-party meeting Murad Ali Shah had not consented to any major changes in the Local Government Act 2013 -and thus, according to these sources GVS spoke with, media reports of a “consensus” between all sides on the powers of the new mayor were simply not true.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) has been thrice in power – since 1988 – as Mayor in Karachi. First Farooq Sattar became Mayor Karachi and he completed his tenure from 9th January 1988 to 27th July 1992. After him, Syed Mustafa Kamal got a chance from 17th October 2005 to February 2010, and then Waseem Akhtar, who just completed his term from 30th August 2016 to 29th August 2020.
Sindh government, as per the Sindh Local Government Act-2013, is under obligation to conduct the next local government elections in the province before the end of October for more than 1900 offices of local government across the province. But the real question remains: Will timely amendments be made to the restrictive 2013 Act to empower local bodies, or the new mayor of Karachi will be another “Wasim Akhtar”
GVS News Desk with input from its legal correspondent Maneha Tariq