EDITORIAL: Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari has himself provided the people of Karachi ample proof, if any was still needed, that his views about the city’s need for devolution of power and local government elections are very different from theirs. What else would possess him to say that devolution wasn’t Karachi’s number-one problem? If it was because he wanted to appear front-footed just as his party was being criticised for dragging its feet on the local government elections, then the politically correct excuse that they were itching to move forward on the issue as soon as their concerns about the 2017 census were settled ought to have been the end of it. Instead his party spokespersons were left with egg on their faces, because of what the boss said out of the blue, when they faced TV cameras.

The fact is that devolution of power, or rather the lack of it, is indeed the number-one problem for the people of Karachi. In a way their city faces the same dilemma within Sindh that the province did within the framework of the federation before the passage of the 18th Amendment. The problem then was over-centralisation in Islamabad and Sindh demanded, with justification, a provision for a point of generation of revenue and that it should be one of the criteria in distribution from the national divisible pool under the NFC (National Finance Commission) formula. Karachi, being the cash cow of Sindh, now finds itself in a similar position because its people do not get a fair share of the revenue that they generate for the province. Surely, they haven’t forgotten, even if everybody else seems to have, that Karachi provides the lion’s share of Sindh’s taxes, and for that matter the federal divisible pool’s taxes, yet its roads are broken, it suffers from acute water shortage, there is garbage on roads everywhere, and local government is non-existent.

Therefore while Bilawal’s position is a disappointment for the people, it also hurts the old narrative of his party, which claims to have made all sorts of sacrifices to preserve and nurture democracy in this country. Yet when it comes to the third tier of government, which is the single most important form of that institution because it deals with service delivery at people’s doorsteps, they now seem pretty happy with doing whatever is needed to keep all power, and of course funds, preserved with their provincial government. Granted, their concerns about the census results are legitimate, but to wave them in the faces of people asking for nothing more than the basic rights that their tax money should buy them is going too far.

Surely, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah must tell him at party meetings that the biggest issues facing the people are things like lack of water, broken roads, poor sanitation, etc., which the local government (LG)?system is built to address. It’s also quite strange that everybody in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), especially Chairman Bilawal, is convinced that they are going to sweep the LG polls whenever they are held. Yet at the same time they are also, by choice, the biggest hurdle in their way. It’s a shame that people’s representatives in the country’s largest and most tax-paying city do not have the heart to give people their legal rights. In this way they are only leaving Karachi to rot which will, in the long run, deprive them of their habitat also.

The party’s more experienced hands should find a way to make their chairman realise the wisdom in exercising restraint and de-escalating from such unrealistic positions. The people of Karachi not only deserve but also urgently need devolution of power right to the grass root. And the party that delivers it to them should count on their gratitude instead of fearing losing absolute control.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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