The federal government’s Karachi Transformation Plan (KTP) has been received warmly by nearly all and sundry, including unsurprisingly, the stakeholders of Pakistan Stock Exchange. Even the PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto has reportedly appreciated the federal government for showing seriousness to Karachi’s troubles. It is rather disappointing, therefore, to see cracks in the so-called unity behind the plan as PTI and PPP leaders exchange claim and counter claim over fiscal ownership of the plan.
Bilawal and other members of the PPP maintain that of the Rs 1.1 trillion plan announced by the federal government, Rs800 billion worth of projects are going to be financed by the government of Sindh. In response, PTI’s Asad Umar maintains that the federal government will bear 62 percent (nearly Rs700 billion) of expenses while the remaining 38 percent is to be spent by the provincial government. Some media reports, however, claim that both federal and provincial governments will pitch in Rs400 billion each and the gap will be plugged by foreign funding. But who will payback that foreign loan has not been reported.
This battle of claims just hours after the announcement of the KTP smacks the air of unison that optimists from the business community are gooey eyed about. A project that starts with such fanfare should not lack clarity over its funding, as seems to be the case with KTP at the time of writing this note. Money matters: without it, all plans are only pipedreams to which Karachiites should not pin their hopes to.
Another reason to be cautious is the governance and politics of the situation. Granted that the PM’s Karachi meeting was also attended by DG ISI and Corps Commander Karachi. Granted also that a certain Provincial Coordination and Implementation Committee (PCIC) has been formed to oversee the implementation of Karachi’s transformation plan. But know well that the PCIC is eventually headed by Sindh’s chief minister.
The best federal government can do is “hope that the PPP leadership would allow the chief minister to work jointly with the federal government for Karachi’s betterment,” as did Asad in his presser over the weekend. If the PTI continues to press hard on the PPP and does not resort to politics of reconciliation, there are limits to which the federal government can achieve towards successful completion of KTP projects.
Some pin their hopes to involvement of military establishment with respect to monitoring and implementation of KTP. But for one, the nature and extent of their involvement is what gossips are made up of. Second, the transformation of city transport and other infrastructure should not be compared with transformation of security environment.
The involvement and/or backing of military establishment in reforming the city’s security landscape may have produced results, thanks in part to change of laws that gave powers to paramilitary forces. But the same cannot be said about the city’s landscape, where one cannot expect powers to be given to non-civilians, especially when change in landscape is a deeply social and political subject involving uprooting of encroachments and (possibly other localities as well) and their relocation.
Perhaps both federal and provincial government could agree on setting up a KTP website for public consumption and a fortnightly press briefing agenda, as instruments of transparency and accountability.
The website should be periodically updated to show progress report on each of the projects under KTP alongside their original timelines for milestones toward the completion of each project. The portal should also specify whose job is to finance and whose job is to execute along with other relevant details to help civil society track progress. The fortnightly press briefing should have members from the PCIC alongside representation from the federal government just so accountability is quick, and that there are lesser opportunities to play blame game or claim victory at the political cost of another.
That political parties in federal and provincial governments must collaborate to achieve combined victory in Karachi is a notion that echoes widely in political and civil society circles. But politics of collaboration has hardly visited Karachi, and in fact has been a stranger to Pakistan even if it has shown its face on rare occasions. The demand of transparency and accountability is rooted in that hard reality, and the fact that the city has a complex political economy, institutional fragmentation, land contestation, and social exclusion. Technocrats beware: Ignore politics, transparency and accountability at your own peril!