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Editorial

March 12, 2018

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The story of Karachi

The headline news from a World Bank report on Karachi and the challenges it faces is that the city needs between $9 and $10 billion over the next decade if it is to meet the basic needs of its 16 million residents. Given that the last budget released by the city government had receipts of around $250 million, that means Karachi only has about one fifth of the revenue it needs. But, as the report shows, it would be a misnomer to even say Karachi has an effective city government. The metropolis is divided between competing fiefdoms that rarely coordinate and have their own priorities. The jurisdiction of the elected government is limited in areas that are controlled by the boards of various housing societies. At the same time, the provincial government has gobbled up much of the powers that previously were vested in the local government, creating a confusing hodgepodge where no one is sure who is to be held accountable for governance in Karachi. This has led to a crisis in everything – from land use to garbage collection and infrastructure development. The story of the World Bank report is one of structural chaos and the devastation that has caused to the country’s industrial and financial hub.

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The most startling statistic in the report is that 90 percent of land in Karachi is controlled by the various power centres in the city, including the federal, provincial and local governments as well as cantonments and housing societies. All these agencies use land for their own benefit, without a master plan to guide them as to the best use for the citizens of the city. What little investment there is in public facilities tends to be piecemeal and reacting to whatever happens to dominate the headlines of any given day. For the last two decades, poor governance has been excused by the law-and-order situation in the city. But even with recent improvements in the fight against crime, there has been no demonstrable development in Karachi. For the city to meet its potential, every agency with influence needs to put the requirements of Karachi over their parochial interests. This means empowering the elected local government and giving it authority across the entire city. The provincial government should realise that local governance cannot be tossed aside just because an opposing party is in power. Institutional capacity will only be built if there is unity going forward.

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