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EDITORIAL: Good news about Karachi, especially its infrastructure, is so hard to come by that its residents ought to be forgiven for taking the little that does grace the headlines with a pinch of salt. But now that the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) has finally approved the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project, some pressure will at least be removed from the city’s broken down transport system not long down the road. It will come at a cost of Rs201.5 billion, including a Rs105 billion private-party investment.

The per-kilometer cost comes down to Rs4.7 billion, much lower than the Rs6.1 billion that Lahore’s similar Orange Line Metro project incurred. So, even though authorities took their sweet time in getting this ball rolling, it does seem to be heading in the right direction.

It also proves a point that the public-private model finally got the job done. It took endless deliberations, but the Public Private Partnership Authority (PPPA) approved the transaction structure according to which the government will give around Rs90.6 billion in subsidies, the concessionaire will invest Rs105 billion, and the government of Sindh will also chip in with Rs6 billion.

But now that the project is good-to-go, an even harder process will begin, which is implementation - monitoring and oversight. Surely, everybody understands that it’s not just strictly the management of the project, its deadlines and deliverables, that will have to be up to scratch. The old KCR was forced to shut down in 1999 because of the power wielded by the city’s transport mafia, after all, and there’s some weight in the argument that over the years Karachi has quite literally come to be run by many such influential outfits.

Yet that also owes in no small part to the fact that nothing was done for the city in all this time and this so-called mafia only, and quite naturally, occupied the empty space. That’s why the best way forward is to have more such projects. Let the private sector weigh and handle commercial nuances and the government provide the anchor of stability and let infrastructural problems be solved one by one.

KCR was part of the Rs739 billion Karachi Transformation Plan (KTP) that came into effect only after Prime Minister Imran Khan swallowed his pride, for once, and admitted that the federal and provincial governments would have to work together if Karachi was to have half a chance of solving some of its most pressing problems. That goes to show that not just public-private but also government-government interaction needs to be smooth.

It’s a shame that political bitterness between PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) in the centre and PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) in Sindh has prevented them from working together to solve the people’s problems, which is their basic duty at the end of the day.

And now that the entire political landscape is erupting all over again, common people can only hope that the concern the political elite on both sides is expressing for them is real this time. More projects like KCR, on similar public-private partnership models, are needed up and down the country. They make jobs, improve the economy and everybody’s lives, and hence also fetch welcome votes.

Once, long ago, the city of lights, Karachi has suffered a terrible fate largely because of the neglect of successive administrations. Even when the KTP was signed, for example, PTI and PPP got into a fight over who would foot how much of the bill and concentrated more on cutting the other down than making the plan work. Even KCR will only begin to address the city’s crippling transport mess. So it’s about time that authorities turned their attention seriously to such things.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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