Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The State of Civic Bodies in Karachi and Lahore.

By Dr. Meher Zaidi.
The recent fire accidents in which 22 and 21 people were burnt alive in factories located in Karachi and Lahore respectively, speaks volumes of the neglect  and insensitivity on the part of public officials and civic agencies officials to the safety and life saving measures for the workers  and  workplace.

The first and foremost person responsible for ensuring safety in the workplace is the owner/manager of the place. He/she should ensure that all safety measures against fire, industrial accidents, building safety (including safe electric circuits/gas connections, piping, provision of alarms, water sprinkling arrangements, sprays, sand bags ,safe exits, fire drills etc) are in place with quality checks and audits periodically. Insensitivity and slackness speaks for the loathsome behavior of all concerned in this country. They emphasize on five time prayers to please God but the basic responsibility towards human beings and those also who are bread winners of the poor families speaks volumes of the real face of Pakistani muslims.
The building regulatory bodies are next in responsibility. The officers of these agencies are totally corrupt to the core. They take enormous bribes to pass maps and give liscences but never check  the construction and regulate the usage of the premises for the purpose it is built. These corrupt officials operate through touts who range from ordinary political workers to the level of engineers and even high government  officials. There is no building regulatory audit and no accountability of this audit by the civic agencies heads. In case of accidents like these and even when the bridge fell in Karachi ,due to faulty construction, the persons responsible find loopholes and bribe their way to freedom. 

The third group of people responsible but no less are the area elected representatives.These are the people who should ensure that factories and warehouses are not located in residential areas. That the workers are given due safety equipment and safe workplace environment and that the poor employees are given political voice no matter even if they are coming from another area. There should be complete ban on factories and ware houses in residential areas.The elected representatives who are presently colluding with factory owners and indirectly helping all corrupt regulatory officers should be made accountable to the public.

The sad state of affairs is that presently if the area residents even if they complain or try to raise voice against such factories or ware houses these corrupt people physically assault them or their families or involve them in some criminal cases with the collusion of area police. This cancerous web of treachery, deciept, dishonesty and corruption is so densly knit that ordinary citizens are scared and find it impoissible to report. They cannot even get the elected representatives on their side. All political parties should be ashamed and should take lesson from these two recent accidents and make it mandatory on all their representatives from lowest denominator to the top to ensure workplace safety as a first right of the citizen.
No plazas, factories, shopping centers be built without ensuring fire safety measures and good electrical audit.The fire and accident evacuation drills should be made mandatory in all such workplaces.These issues should be made part of all school and college curiculum so that there is general awareness andd sense of responsibilty of the masses.

The single most important factor in saving lives is good firefighting and evacuation agency.Presently both Karachi and Lahore firefighting agencies ar under staffed, ill equiped and out dated. These should be expanded massively.They should receive a very updated staff and equipment including vehicles.The Karachi section was bieng revamped following the Ashura bomb blasts but thanks to the infighting between the then interior minister of Sindh and the elected representatives of Karachi, this was put in waste basket.A much needed and most important department stands un-attended and helpless.
As the fire tenders find it difficult to negotiate and reach these densely populated areas ,the relocation after a survey and listing of all such factories and warehouses in Karachi and Lahore is now unavoidable. Both chief ministers should urgently start this exercise and finish this before the next elections with recommendations for action for the next governments.If the new local governments are in place this work will become easier, provided corrupt people are not re-elected and /or the poltical parties purge themselves of these corrupt and damaging elements.
With the new  industrial zones close to Karachi and Lahore, relocation plan should be made and instituted by the new governments on priority basis. The poor workers ‘ lives will not have been lost in vain if this is done. It is high time that we , the people of Pakistan shun our garbs of shamelessness and demand that workplace safety and safe residential areas be our right. We must fight against corruption at political and civic level.The political parties must expunge their corrupt members and change. Otherwise the masses will eventually rise and burn everything  down and who knows that maybe best.   

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pakistan Happenings...Of Local Government Elections,New Alliances & Karachi.

As the Pakistan Peoples Party(PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement(MQM) reach accord for a new Local government ordinance, the other political parties like the Awami National Party(ANP),Muslim League ,Functional  (ML-F) which are coalition partners of the PPP government in Sindh are opposing this ordinance.The local government has been successful in Karachi & Hyderabad, two cities governed by the MQM in 2001 till 2009 through the 2001 Local Bodies Act . As described in the editorial of Business Recorder today,All cities need local governments.  The personnel and infrastructure of this tier of government has to be institutionalized.The provincial government officials are transferred after a period and the local body staff has to be deployed on permanent basis with a service structure. A big megapolis like Karachi  needs a permanent local government structure. For that matter cities like Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana also need well trained, well entrenched local government staff which cater to the needs of these cities.
The politics of opposition are based on mistrust and lack of confidence amongst the various coalition partners in Sindh.The background of these political tensions is ethnicity. Sindh political landscape has a very varied expression of ethnicity. The main ethnic groups are Sindhi speaking (Sindhi, Brahui, Balochi speaking communities),Urdu speaking,Pushto speaking,Hindko, Punjabi, Balochi,Gilgiti &Seraiki speaking.Karachi and Hyderabad have a large population of Urdu speaking people. Generally the MQM wins a large mandate from these two cities. During 2000 and 2008, it successfully ran these two large cities with lots of roads & infrastructure development.It bases the strength of this development for favor of the local government (as envisaged in 2001 ordinance).There have been various problems in the implementation of this ordinance and practical problems were highlighted and discussed in many conferences during this period.The Sindhi speaking population which gives its mandate to the PPP largely has not availed of this ordinance and wanted the 1979 Local bodies Act to be implemented. This was made anordinance ironically during the Zia ul Haq regime but was initially the Peoples Local Bodies Act as drafted during the Bhutto government in 1976.It was redesigned with small changes to suit the dictator's whims and put in place.The present PPP wanted this to be implemented with its changes.The other coalition partners agreed on this except the MQM which fearing its disenfranchisement & lessening of its power wanted the 2001 ordinance to be retained.
The new politics of Sindh need taking all allies on board and having a reconciliatory stance with stakeholders as too much water has passed under the bridge and Sindh needs massive and urgent  development both in its urban and rural areas. The successful interaction in which the city Nazim got the nullahs and drains of Karachi cleaned when rains wrecked havoc and submerged even the posh areas of Karachi like Defence and Clifton needs to be revitalized. Since the collapse of the local government and its replacement by administrators by the PPP Sindh government all the good work of garbage and drain cleaning has been undone. The encroachments by the rich and powerful over drains and natural waterways in Karachi which the city Nazim so successfully undid with political clout is slowly making its way back again.The staff of the city government of Karachi has not been paid their salaries for many months so all the drains and main waterways inside the city are filled with garbage. The disposal of solid waste has also taken a back bench. This seems like a deliberate attempt to undermine the well bieng of Karachi civic bodies and indirectly affect the MQM votebank but it , infact raise eyebrows on PPP Sindh governments' ability to govern large cities like Karachi .The lack of civic services and their mismanagement speaks volumes on this party's inability to do anything for their own inner cities where they have a large mandate. The sense of urgency to tackle this issue has been cleverly sensed by president Asif Ali Zardari, who being the co- chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party has brought about a reconciliatory local government ordinance.
Image(DAWN.COM) shows the drains are blocked causing havoc in recent rains.
 The issues where Hyderabad was divided into areas , which the PPP says was to lessen its hold over the votebank, has also been a bone of contention for the PPP and MQM.
But what about the other cities like Nawabshah, Larkana, Jacobabad where the city problems are massive with bad roads, bad & broken sewerage etc. Here there is the mandate is of PPP. These cities also need a dedicated , honest local government for their massive and urgent development.
The new ordinance will not only benefit the largely Urdu speaking MQM supporters but also all the other ethnic groups residing in Sindh. The roads & bridges network will help the Pathan, Punjabi traders and transporters with their businesses. The development and housing , building activity will help the Punjabi, Sindhi,Pathan and Seraiki speaking people.There is a need for all the ethnic groups to develop a tolerance towards each other based on the fact that all are here to stay permanently for their economic gains. The racism and hatred based on primitive instincts has to be abandoned for a new beginning.

The politics of Sindh are also showing a new yawning activity of Sindhi nationalists. People like Mumtaz Ali Bhutto who uptil now called Mr Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) a face of Punjab domination have merged his party into this larger party.All other Sindhi nationalists have also taken a reconciliatory stance with the largely Punjabi party.Many say that this has been done on the behest of the establishment.It seems that in Sindh, the nationalists are leaving no stone un-turned to grab power away from PPP and appear on the scene even as a nuisance value.