First the dam fund, now the ‘Lets Clean Karachi’ fund – what do we pay taxes for?

Published: August 7, 2019
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Citizens walk amongst dumped garbage at a residential area of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Two teenagers were riding a donkey cart full of garbage they had collected from houses towards a garbage dump located behind a ground known as Eid Gah in Karachi’s Gulberg Town. After reaching the spot, the boys emptied the garbage and the horrid smell forces passers-by’s to cover their noses. 

Every month, representatives from a local governing body collect Rs100 from each house in Gulberg Town for the facilitation of garbage disposal. However, the waste material is neither disposed of nor is it recycled properly. Ultimately, no one knows where the money that had been collected from the pockets of the citizens is spent.

This is a common problem. Apart from a few affluent localities in Karachi, hordes of garbage are piled up across various neighbourhoods in the city and it has become apparent that the government has failed to devise an effective long-term strategy for Karachi’s garbage conundrum.

In an attempt to tackle this very problem, the Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi, a member of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), launched the ‘Let’s Clean Karachi’ drive, in collaboration with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P). The drive officially kicked off on Sunday at the Karachi Port Trust Office (KPT) and will reportedly be carried out in two phases. In the first phase, storm water drains will be cleaned while the second phase will comprise of clearing garbage from the streets and roads.

Zaidi has requested citizens for donations, claiming that over Rs1.75 billion is required in order to execute the first phase of the drive. According to him, the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) will manage the campaign voluntarily because it has the necessary machinery and expertise, while 5,000 volunteers will help carry out the campaign.

Now, in theory, the idea sounds compelling, and we even praise the initiative. However, two years ago a similar initiative called the ‘Clean Karachi Campaign’ was launched by the Karachi Metropolitan Cooperation (KMC). But like most half-baked solutions to Karachi’s deeply rooted garbage problem, the campaign seems to have borne little fruit. Similarly, if the‘Let’s Clean Karachi’ campaign fails to put into place effective polices, then it too will soon become redundant.

Although Karachi has many stakeholders, including the federal government, the provincial government and the local government, it appears that no one actually wishes to take ownership of the problems that riddle Karachi.

Undoubtedly, fingers are pointed at the residents of Karachi for treating the roads as their personal trash cans. The local government blames the provincial government for not releasing the funds needed to initiate the cleaning process in Karachi while the Sindh government criticises the federal government for not providing them with the allocated funds. The tragedy is that the federal government ignores Karachi’s garbage problem even though the city provides the government with the highest amount of tax revenue.

But why do the masses have to bear the brunt of the government’s inefficiency? Why should we donate money to the government when we already pay taxes for this very purpose? In the 2019 budget, salaried persons under Rs50,000 have also been taxed and indirect taxes have been increased. If this money isn’t being spent on improving the welfare of citizens, then where is it going?

This drive is reminiscent of former chief justice Saqib Nisar’s campaign for the construction of Diamer Bhasha and Mohammand Dam in which Pakistani nationals from across the globe actively contributed towards a collection of more than Rs10 billion. However, the expected cost of construction for the dam was $14 billion. Many citizens donated to the dam fund of their own accord while certain institutions such as Pakistan Railways was charging additional Rs10 per ticket for the cause. In this scenario, the same question arises: when the citizens pay taxes, why should they have to donate for projects which are the responsibility of the government?

The initiators of the ‘Let’s Clean Karachi’ drive need to brief the public about their extended workable plan so that its future is not similar to the dam fund campaign.

Right after announcing the campaign, the federal minister also demanded people living on encroachments to voluntarily vacate those places and that these individuals would be provided houses under the Pakistan Scheme residential project. But why would people leave their homes for a settlement whose ordinance is yet to be presented in the National Assembly and whose fate is still not decided? No one knows where this proposed scheme is located because it is currently in its planning phase.

Cleanliness drives in a metropolitan city like Karachi could be successful on temporary basis; however, maintaining a standard of cleanliness is ultimately the responsibility of the government. The long term efficacy of this drive still remains to be seen. Clearing storm drains and collecting garbage will surely provide temporary relief, but it will not address the core of the problem. Unfortunately, a metropolitan like Karachi is severely lacking a detailed plan which attempts to solve the garbage problem, which will only worsen as the years go by. Using donations to provide temporary relief is of little use if there is no wide ranging policy.

Fatima Sheikh

Fatima Sheikh

The author works as a sub-editor for Express Tribune’s National desk. She tweets @fatimash29 (twitter.com/fatimash29)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.