June 23 - 29, 2003



MUHAMMAD ABDUL WAHAB, is the Nazim of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town under the purview of City District Government, Karachi. The area under his Town Municipal Administration is spread into 13 Union Councils which comprised around 45 per cent of Katchi Abadis.

Originally, Abdul Wahab runs his own construction business, but could hardly find much time to look after his personal business due to his extremely busy schedule. Abdul Wahab, as the Town Municipal Administrator, everyday, he has to attend over 150 visitors coming from different councils with various complains mostly related to sewerage, road and water problems. While he takes pride in what he described the unprecedented development work under the new system, at the same time he regrets over what could not be achieved due to uncalled hurdles created by the elements of vested interests in the bureaucracy.

PAGE: The main objective behind the concept of local government introduced by the present government was the devolution of powers to the grass root level. Since its inception, the new system has almost completed two years of its age. Do you think that the new system has succeeded in power devolution to the grass root level?

ABDUL WAHAB: The concept of power devolution sounds appealing but when it comes to the stage of implementation it has to confront with different strong lobbies in the bureaucracy whose interest was severally hit under the new system. In fact these powerful people in the fold of bureaucracy were enjoying a princely life style, using the huge finances allocated for development budgets according to their wish and will. Obviously, they were not mentally prepared to give up their financial powers, hence that lust of power has become the bone of contention. Consequently, the civic bodies like Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KW&SB), Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) and Authority for Katchi Abadis were not transferred to the District Government. However, the defunct Karachi Development Authority (KDA) was placed under the domain of the district government.

PAGE: Are you satisfied with the present state of affairs and do you believe that the new system is strong enough to deliver the goods to the satisfaction of the people?



Abdul Wahab: Deeds are more vocal that the words. The job done under the new system is self-explanatory. Much more could have been achieved towards the development of civic facilities, had the enough funds were provided through revenue collections. The financial constraints are hampering the progress of the development work especially in the context of sewerage system, road construction in the under developed areas. For example, more than 40 per cent of the area in Gulshan Town is comprised of Katchi Abadis. Karachi has a total number of 540 Katchi Abadis. Despite facing acute financial constraints, new sewerage facilities have been provided in different Katchi Abadis. During the previous financial year, Gulshan Town had a budget for Rs36 crores, however, against the total allocation Rs22 crores were made available.

The district government has a enough potential to generate revenue for the development purposes, yet due to non-cooperation within the government departments, the pace of growth was suffering. For example, the total collection under the property tax was estimated around Rs32 crores, however, out of the total collection, Rs30 crores were not released to the local bodies. If the revenue collection under different heads was allowed to streamline, the Gulshan Town alone had the potential to generate over Rs100 crores per annum.

PAGE: It seems that the district government was paying special attention on the street lights. Most of the city roads have been flooded with street lights. But on the other side KESC complains that the city was being illuminated at the cost of KESC because monthly bills for electricity consumption for street lights were not being paid by the city government?

ABDUL WAHAB: It is not true that the city government had ever refused to pay the monthly bills for electricity consumption. Actually, the problem was created by the KESC itself by charging the city government for the electricity consumption on the basis of commercial tariffs. What is the justification for charging the street lights? The street lights a purely public service and no commercial activity is involved behind the street lights. There should be some rationale behind application of the rules. Traditionally speaking, KESC had to charge for street lights under a formula through which 70 percent of the lights were charged while 30 percent were treated unaccounted for because they were not 100 percent alive throughout the city. If the KESC convert its billing on domestic rates plus 70 percent of the poles, we are much more willing to pay the dues.

Despite all difficulties and opposition by the vested interest, the future of the local body system is bright as the benefits of the new system have already started reaching the common man. Let the system get its roots deeper in the society, it has the capacity to deliver the goods to the satisfaction of the common man.