Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interview : Karachi Mayor Mustufa Kamal !

The Mayor of Karachi has transformed the city ! He leaves office on the 14th of August 2009.

KARACHI: As the fate of local governments across the country becomes uncertain, hyperactive Karachi Nazim Mustufa Kamal makes last-minute phone calls, meets delegations, signs documents and scolds his PA for not getting enough press coverage of his last days in office. Kamal’s tenure, which began in October 2005, is set to end sometime in August, a month before his four-year term was due to end.

Q. How do you feel about relinquishing charge as city nazim?

A. As far as my own conscience is concerned, it is clear and I’m very glad that whatever responsibility I had been given, I tried to fulfil it. I was able to see some visible changes in the life of the people of Karachi. There’s always some room for improvement and I won’t say that we’ve done everything right or that there has been 100 per cent achievements. But then in the shortest period of time and within limited resources, whatever could have been done, we’ve tried to achieve. Whoever comes after me, I wish him/her all the best. I wish that he/she makes the city more viable than what it is today.

Q. Why did you impose taxes on the people of Karachi at the end of your tenure?

A. Exactly, why did I have to launch this taxation system in the fourth year of my tenure, especially when I had accomplished everything? I know if I ask money from people, no one is going to be happy about it. But I did it because I take ownership of this city. The idea was that I have spent Rs 200 billion on developing the city’s infrastructure, which was not Mustafa Kamal’s or the MQM’s money. It was people’s money. Now, all this development needs maintenance. I know the condition of the provincial and federal government, who have stopped our funds. And I know that if you don’t repair and put money into maintenance, all these projects will go down the drain. Billions of rupees worth of projects will be destroyed and after five or 10 years, a new nazim will come and have to start all over again. Do we want that to happen?

Q. Why did the garbage collection project backed by Chinese investment fail?

A. My project didn’t fail. We’re still working on it. Who had conceived of Chinese involvement? I was the one who brought them on board. Before that, we had purchased Rs 700 million worth of machinery, which was a first-time in the history of Karachi. The Chinese were supposed to invest $400 million for the establishment of their Garbage Transferring System (GTS), but they didn’t do that because of the country’s poor economic and political condition. I’m helpless in that. In a scenario where your own people are taking their dollars out of the country, how can you expect anyone to come in and invest here? So, I have not failed in this project. Our country’s external factors have been hampering it, but it is to our credit that even then the project has not been abolished and we’re still in talks with [the Chinese investors].

Q. What happened to the mass transit system for Karachi?

A. The mass transit system and circular railways comes under the federal government. We made the plan, provided case studies, and did everything from our side, but the bottleneck was there. Even the number of buses for the mass transit system was cut down from 8,000 to 4, 000. Rs 2.5 billion was supposed to be set aside for it, but nothing took place. We did our part of the job but I cannot go and sit in Islamabad and fight on the behalf of the provincial or federal minister or the prime minister or the federal secretary.

Q. Please explain the decision to launch 50 CNG buses in the last days of your tenure.

A. It is a very small step, but it was what we could manage. At least we have created a model here. Instead of just waiting for Islamabad to come and fund us, we have dedicated CNG buses with an e-ticketing system. I know we need thousands of such buses. But what can we do? Everywhere in the world, mass transit is handled by the federal government of that country.

Q. Why did you approach the high court against the Sindh chief minister’s notification?

A. I filed the petition against one of the notifications which stated that the city government could not sell or buy property. We were in the phase of many transactions and that notification had stopped everything. Now, as the mayor of the city, I should have all the rights, otherwise they should just take me off this seat.Whenever there’s a dispute between any two organisations, you go to a third organisation to resolve the dispute. So I approached the high court to resolve the issue.

Q. What flaws did you come across in the local government system during your tenure?

A. The biggest flaw is that enforcement is not there. A person sitting on my seat will remain paralysed if city and traffic police is not placed under the nazim’s control. Also, the entire land of the city should come under the jurisdiction of the city government and not the provincial government. Presently, one has to buy land from the provincial government for any development project. The biggest dichotomy is that the provincial government doesn’t mind if the land is being encroached, but it won’t give it to the CDGK. Lastly, there are 13 different agencies operating in Karachi. I’ve been saying for a long time that unity of command is a must.

Q. What were the low points of your tenure?

A. I come across 10 frustrating points every day, so I can’t name just one. For example, there’s the halt of CDGK funds by the government, encroachment of city government land, and police indifference. It is very frustrating when encroachers in some areas do not let me do my job while the police just stand there. I also get frustrated when I see that people are violating traffic rules on my own constructed flyovers and bridges.

Q. What do you term as your best achievement?

A. Although I would like to leave that for the people to decide, I will say that my favourite project has been 1339, the complaint management system. Although it remains invisible, it’s a system that has provided a voice to the people of Karachi. Today, it’s even ISO certified. I’m really proud of it.

Q. What was the most difficult project for you to undertake?

A. Apart from the mass transit system, the 40-year-old Preedy Street project was also very difficult. Around 85 houses with 1,100 inhabitants had to be demolished. Most of them were supporters of the MQM. They didn’t say a word and let us demolish their houses. That was really difficult for me to do.

Q. Has your work affected your family life?

A. My family life has totally deteriorated… they have forgotten me. They don’t make any plans while keeping me in mind.

Q. Would you want to become the mayor of Karachi again?

A. I would beg my party not to do that. I’ll beg. Trust me, I mean it. This was like an exam for me. It was a huge responsibility and it hasn’t been a bed of roses for me. In my student life, I would always feel inner happiness when the exams came to an end. So just imagine that on your last paper somebody comes in and tells you that look you have a new exam tomorrow. How would you feel?

Q. What do you plan to do once you leave office?

A. I’m a worker of the MQM and I will continue to be a worker of the party. The party has its own philosophy. It’s not about becoming a nazim or an MPA or MNA or governor. I have tried to market MQM’s philosophy through my work. Now if I have done that well, people will realise that if it’s good for Karachi then it’s good for everybody in Pakistan.

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