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SOCIETY SOLVING KARACHI'S CIVIC PROBLEMS
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SOLVING KARACHI'S CIVIC PROBLEMS WITH UNIVERSITIES' HELP

 


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By MUHAMMAD BASHIR CHAUDHRY
June 30 - July 06, 2003 
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The Karachi City Nazim speaking at a seminar on "Civic Problems: Hi-Tech Solutions", organized by the Usman Institute of Technology, reportedly urged the universities, educational institutes, and technical experts to assist the City government in collecting data and conducting surveys and research to overcome the problems facing the people. The City Nazim mentioned that in the developed countries the professors of universities conduct surveys, collect data and prepare policies for towns and cities. On similar lines, it is expected that our scholars would realize their responsibilities and come forward to assist the City government in solving the civic problems.

Application of modern technology and scientific techniques can possibly help resolve the existing civic problems at a faster pace but the cost will be exorbitant and beyond the capacity of the City government. Cooperation with the local universities and the local experts has the potential to help devise low-cost solutions to many of such problems.

The City government and other authorities must adopt the indigenisation policy to find cheaper solutions that are in line with the local conditions and also suit our budgets. The City government, the universities and the industry can join hands and play an important role in this regard. In this spirit, certain ideas and suggestions for consideration by the City government, the universities/professional institutes and the individual experts are offered as under.

We are lucky to have so many universities and professional institutions in Karachi. During proceedings of the above Seminar, there was mention of an MOU between the City government and the Usman Institute of Technology for hi-tech solutions of civic problems and provision of expertise in various other fields. In case of cooperation and collaboration for resolving civic problems of the Metropolitan Karachi between the City government and the educational institutions, all these institutions would eventually be seeking similar MOUs with the City government. In my humble opinion, first let the matters pertaining to the civic issues and the extent of cooperation are debated extensively among all counter parties in joint sessions. The City government may consider calling a meeting of the universities, professional institutions and the private / individual experts to come and discuss the ways such cooperation can be accelerated and areas can be identifies, and the shape the cooperation should take for mutual benefit. This way probably foundation for more lasting and mutually beneficial cooperation would be laid in a transparent and open manner.

The framework for cooperation between the universities and the City government (also at provincial/federal level) need to be properly developed and institutionalized. For initiating the process it is imperative to discuss and formalize the procedures in matters such as the sharing of technical details, award of research/report/survey assignments, monitoring of projects under progress, receipt of final reports/survey results and the payment of out-of-pocket and/or other agreed fees to the university teams. There would surely be wide variations in the capabilities of public and private sector universities. Public universities generally have better qualified and experienced teachers as compared to the private sector universities though exceptions cannot be ruled out. The City government may pre-qualify the universities and the professional institutes for the purpose of various/special assignments. It may be appreciated that for certain assignments only the engineering/technical universities and institutes would be more relevant; whereas for other assignments, there might be need for more input from the professional/financial institutes. Also for large city-wise surveys, it may be required to associate a large number of universities and institutes. For award of specific assignments, open competition among pre-qualified institutions may be the preferred course of action by the City government.

 

 

The universities and professional education institutions, however, are different from the professional firms of consultants. Good foreign consultants would be hard to replace by local consultants and experts in the short term particularly for important projects. However, local consultants and experts may be associated along with the foreign consultants to get experience and exposure. Because of less research or surveys in the past, most of the universities may lack depth or extensive past track record of achievements. These institutions have to be nurtured for such assignments. Individual teachers may have extensive experience of such activities in the past and they may be in a better position to assist the City government in a particular project or assignment. However, these teachers should have specific permission from the university or the professional institutions for handling the assignment on behalf of the City government. With a view to help the universities, the institutions and the experts associated with them, the City government may consider small assignments initially to be followed with larger and more extensive assignments after successful completion of earlier assignments.

The above discussion in no way is an attempt to discourage the City government from associating with the universities and the professional institutions, which are all maintaining good standards to the extent of conditions obtaining in the country and the resources at their disposal. However, for contracting professional work to be paid out of City government budget one has to be realistic and the assignments must be negotiated at arms-length basis and so should be the evaluation of actual performance before full payment is authorized.

The universities/professional institutes may also formally institutionalize the research work and surveys to be done for the City government by the teachers with or without participation of the students. For students the research work should be made part of their academic schedule and there may be credits towards the final examination. The teachers should not be handling the assignments at the cost of academic activities of the students. A fair and balanced approach has to be adopted. Transparent procedures and guidelines should be put in place particularly for the sharing of income and the conduct of assignment. Completion of initial small assignments within time and budget should help develop the expertise and confidence for bigger assignments in future.

It may be realized that the universities and the professional institutions shall be sort of consultants and advisors to the City government and may be treated as such in the assignment work. The institutions in their official capacity or the teachers/experts in their individual/personal capacity may be offering and providing the services to the City government. For availing such services, the international financing institutions have prescribed specific procedure and guidelines. The City government might also benefit from these procedures/guidelines and also up-date the existing guidelines and procedures for hiring such services.

The City government can pre-qualify and register the local consultants (firms as well as individual experts), the universities and financial institutions according to the potential/experience/expertise of each. This registered can be periodically up-dated. Whenever there is an assignment where local expertise is needed the register may be consulted and the initial short-list of appropriately qualified experts or institutions would be ready.

It may be appreciated that the assignments invariably involve expenses and the release of privileged information, both of which may be protected through appropriate contractual arrangements. The process should be designed and operated in such a way that compliance-wise it can survive independent or third party audits. The City government to also develop in house consensus for such cooperation, and to develop the capability to handle such consultants on proper lines and to get the best value for the money spent.

Apart from proper/regular assignments, there are many other ways for cooperation and coordination between the City government and the universities/professional institutes/individual experts. This association could be the harbinger for more extensive cooperation. All the counter parties would gain in the process particularly the university students and teachers shall be exposed to the real-life situations. Some of these ways are briefly touched here under:

a. The university teachers are taken as members on different committees constituted by the City government on ad hoc or on regular basis to assist on specific issues. There might not be any consideration for his/her services. The university may allow him/her to attend the committee meetings and his work in the university may be scheduled such that there is no academic loss of the concerned students.

 

 

b. The City government may require the engineering/technical universities for designing and operating pilot plants such as power generation from solid waste, compost fertilizer plant based on city solid waste, etc. The cost of setting up the pilot plant and later cost for its operation may be subsidised by the City government. Commercial size plants may be considered on the basis of the results obtained from the performance of the pilot plants.

c. Different universities/institutes/teachers/experts may be associated for clarifying certain aspects of a project or an issue for the purpose of procuring/developing technical data from different sources and providing the same to the City government for improved decision making on such projects/issues.

d. These days most large development/infrastructure projects are being promoted on Project Finance/BOT basis and many of the details particularly potential problems, costs, guarantees or other obligations are not shared by the developers with the City government in the initial stages at which only the brighter side is shown. The universities, teachers as well as the students and the experts can help dig out details about such projects that are running successfully or that have failed due to different reasons. This would help in decision making particularly financial and other commitments.

e. These days the City government is attempting the development of many infrastructure projects on Build-Own-Transfer (BOT) basis. BOT as a financing vehicle is expensive and is not easy to negotiate. In order to make its team of officers/experts familiar with this and other similar financing techniques, the City government may ask the professional institutions to help train the government officers in this area. However, it must also be realized that the universities are likely to have only limited experience of financing of projects on this basis. But to the extent of the academics the universities can help clarify the topics and associated intricacies. Perhaps there are teachers who have been exposed in actual handling of real-life projects that would be useful in clarifying the techniques. This would help the City government in financing of future infrastructure projects on BIT/other similar techniques.

f. The teams of specialists drawn from the universities/independent experts can be asked to review the design of roads/intersections, bridges, etc. as well as the quality of material to be used while implementing these projects. The findings are expected to be helpful to the City government.

g. Documentation in respect of important capital-intensive projects can be shared with these experts for review and recommendations. It is expected to be even more beneficial if these experts are associated in the review process in the initial stages of such projects. Lyari Express Way, Karachi Circular Railways and Northern By-pass projects are important and could have been possibly reviewed and improved through this process.

The issues confronting the City government and the country are numerous. There is need for thorough debate on the issues but without generating animosity among the participants. Perhaps we can borrow a leaf in this regard from Bangladesh. In 1993, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) was established, to promote an ongoing process of dialogue between the principal partners in decision-making and implementing process. The dialogues are designed to address important policy issues and to seek constructive solutions to these problems. These dialogues have brought together ministers, members of parliament, business leaders, NGOs, donors, professionals and other functional groups in civil society within a non-confrontational environment to promote focused discussions. In support of the dialogue process the CPD is engaged in research including public perception surveys. The CPD Dialogue Reports are brought out to widely disseminate the summary of discussions. The City government, the universities and the trade and industry may consider setting up such a forum for dialogue on important policy issues in Pakistan.