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Improving Municipal Services for Urban Population

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The Municipal services are among the most important services rendered by the Municipalities or Municipal corporations globally including Pakistan. The Poor Planning, absence of Master plans for the urban cities have made the urban population of the cities prone Environmental, the Social and Economic performance of the cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Hyderabad and others.

The thematic areas of  Municipal corporations include Clean drinking water, Sanitation, Sewerage, Waste Management, Streets, Lighting, Emergency or rescue services such as Ambulances, basic Health facilities, social and community welfare activities such event management, recreational services, Public Safety, Transportation and roads, Bus, Van and Taxi Terminals, Parks and zoos for amusement and recreation.

The essential services include such as schools, colleges, Playgrounds etc. These facilities are mentioned in UN-Habitat Essential services and Practices policy especially recommended for the whole world as mentioned in Istanbul “Declaration on Human Settlements”.

The Municipal committees and Municipal Corporation generate funds from various sources such as property and estate owned by them given on lease or rent to the people and the income generated is used on provisions of various essential services.

The Municipal Committees or corporations also auctions various contracts to the general public such as Cattle Markets, Vegetable and Fruit markets, Transport Services and accrues a handsome amount in millions from them.

The funds are spent for the general public on the provision of clean drinking water, Education and Health facilities, Emergency, Infrastructure such as roads, Parks, Public Libraries, Community centres, Auditoriums, Marriage Halls. The Municipalities also earn from these services and cover their operation and maintenance costs.

With ever-growing Population and massive urbanization, it is very difficult for this organization to cater to the needs of the population at such a large scale. The meagre budgets allocated on the basis of smaller Population puts municipalities on the test as this organization struggle to meet the requirements of the common people.

There are also reports that misappropriation in the local government funds, Mismanagement, incompetence, Political involvement, non-cader employees has wreaked havoc with these local government Organizations. The political and fake appointments lead affecting their proper function and heavy burden on their operational and maintenance budget.

The Chief Municipal Officers are often appointed on nepotism, favouritism and sold like the commodity to those who could afford since there is no proper recruitment policy that may bring a constructive and lasting change in improving the indispensable Municipal services to provide relief to the Urban Population.

There is also a serious problem of misuse of funds in other activities beyond the purview of the municipality such as repair and renovation of bungalows of Political figures, purchase of vehicles beyond the Limit and corrupt practices of fake appointments or Ghost appointments.

The local funds are transferred to bank accounts as these funds are not routed or passed through government treasuries. The lower sanitation staffs are mostly affected as these are not paid on time.

Even, their pension cases are delayed on the pretext of shortage of funds. Actually, funds are utilized by the Influential Elected representatives the Municipal Committee or Tehseel councils and District Councils.

The local Government system introduced by General Parvez Musharraf was much better than existing municipals services since the finance department and Planning Departments were devolved at the district level and the districts had financial autonomy in fund spending.

But, nowadays, people knock the doors of  MPAs and MNAs for minor development work of Crosses, CC Blocks, Small bridges over canals, repairs of link roads. The Sustainable, efficient and integrated municipal services lead to facilitate people enormously and boost urban development.

The clean drinking water is the basic need of people but unfortunately, access to clean and safe drinking water is still a far cry in various big and small cities especially Karachi, Sukkur.

The lethargic and incompetent municipal authorities have messed up the issue of water supply as so far these water distribution channels have not repaired and maintained to fulfil the needs of the ever-growing population. The water supply is often contaminated with sewage thus creating various water-borne diseases and environmental challenge for the People.

The Government should take the issue seriously and ensure the provision of Safe and Pure drinking water to minimize the chances of various diseases.

The transportation or mobility is yet another key component of Municipal which is also being neglected, The Poor infrastructure of Streets, Roads and Drainage system causing various environmental challenges. The Streets and roads are often inundated with sewage water thus making the movement of the people very difficult. The Municipalities should study various models and implement the best model given the conditions and challenges being faced with.

There are also the biggest issues of proper waste management. The heaps of garbage lying in every street poses a grave threat to public health warrants the municipal authorities and the provincial Government to chalk out plan dispose of the waste so that the environmental challenges may be curbed.

Through Sindh Government has established Sindh Solid Waste Management Board to carry out waste management in Karachi Metropolitan Area but such initiative is needed at every District level so that proper waste management practices may be utilized to make the environment clean for the living.

Punjab has also established various waste management companies to manage waste in the Public sector such as Gujranwala Waste Management Company, Lahore Waste Management Company, Multan Waste Management Company, etc. There is strong need to expand such waste management Companies Network throughout Punjab at District Level. The ADB funded Projects such as Sindh Cities Improvement Program established North Sindh Urban Services Corporation (NSUSC) at Sukkur and South Sindh Urban Services but these failed to deliver the desired results of waste and sewage since people started complaining against these due to their inability to fulfil the needs of The People.

There are also reports that Municipal employs had hatched a plot to fail these services so that they may regain the responsibility and misuse the funds as practices earlier.

The other missing key component is education. The Municipal Administration in Sindh,  Punjab, Baluchistan and KPK have failed to provide basic education by establishing municipal Models School to impart education to people living in municipal limits and suburbs. Education leads the development of the nation but neglecting the Education component will cause backwardness and rise of criminal activities.

Finally, Municipal services are essential for the people living in the cities and the quality of Municipal services could be improved by studying various Models and implementing the best model as per the needs and circumstances. The proper solid waste management practices at the District and Tehsil level may be practised to get rid of the heaps of solid waste. The Solid Waste can be converted into Energy by producing electricity from the waste as practices India and other countries.

The Provision of clean drinking water may be ensured by setting up RO plants. The emergency services such as Fire Brigade Staff, Ambulance Services and rescue services in case Natural Disasters may be ensured so that the real spirit of Municipal services may be revitalized.

Though the urban Policy Units are established in three provinces, yet there is need to strengthen these policy units to give policy advice on solid waste management and effective Municipal services to transform cities into engines of growth to bring economic Boom.

The Urban Unit Lahore, Urban policy directorate Karachi and  Urban Policy Unit KPK have done a tremendous job by introducing best practices in the urban economy, Transportation, Housing, water and Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Technologies to transform the urban cities into growth engines through implementation of the effective Urban Policy.

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Development

The Development of microfinance industry depends upon the resilience and risk management: SECP Chairman Amir Khan

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Islamabad : SECP Chairman, Aamir Khan emphasized that in these challenging times the development of microfinance industry depends upon the resilience and risk management, achieved through quintessential pillars of liquidity-tapped through private capital and technology embracement. Khan was addressing the Non-Bank Microfinance Companies Stakeholders Forum organized by SECP to devise a way forward and collaborate strategic response to cope the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

The SECP Chairman Amir Khan, along with Commissioner Specialized Companies Division, Farrukh Sabzwari chaired the session. Representatives of Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), Pakistan Microfinance Investment Company Limited (PMIC), Karandaaz Pakistan and multilateral donor agencies including the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Department for International Development (DFID) attended the session.

 The Chairman SECP advised NBMFCs to go far product diversification to insurance solutions and saving products and build capacity of their workforce to attain business development and operational efficiency. He endorsed formation of a working group consisting of nominees from SECP, PMN, PMIC and NBMFCs to further analyze the situation. The working group will also take up the matters with relevant forums including ministry of finance, SBP and multilateral donor agencies for possible solutions.

Khan expressed SECP’s firm commitment to providing all possible support to industry not only during the current pandemic times but also in developing the industry on a strong footing. SECP Commissioner, Sabzwari highlighted the measures taken by SECP to provide relief and flexibility to the NBMFCs and their wholesale lender in managing funding requirements. He also talked about SECP’s advice to NBMFCs to defer and reschedule borrower loans.

Participants acknowledged SECP’s timely intervention to provide regulatory relief to NBMFCs in managing their credit lines and funding requirements. However, industry representatives expressed their concerns on potential defaults by borrower and liquidity crunch that may lead to capital crisis in the industry.

They raised the need of new money injection into the industry through collaborative efforts of microfinance regulators and the government. Representatives of international donor agencies attending the Forum expressed their resolve to extend fullest possible support to Pakistan’s microfinance sector.    

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Development

Gov’t releases Rs 533.33 billion for various development projects so far

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Islamabad: The federal government has so far authorized release of Rs 533.33 billion for various ongoing and new social sector uplift projects under its Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2019-20, as against the total allocation of Rs 701 billion.

Under its development programme, the government has released an amount of Rs 230.3 billion for federal ministries, Rs 175.65 billion for corporations and Rs 43.46 billion for special areas, according to a latest data released by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform.

Out of these allocations, the government released Rs 38.5 billion for security enhancement in the country for which the government had allocated Rs 53 billion during the year 2019-20.

An amount of Rs 81.37 billion has also been released for the blocks managed by finance division under the government’s 10 years development programme.

Similarly, for Higher Education Commission, the government released an amount of Rs 27.07 billion out of its total allocation of Rs 29 billion while Rs 301.47 million were released for Pakistan Nuclear Energy Authority for which the government had allocated Rs 301.48 million in the development budget.

For National Highway Authority, the government released Rs154.94 billion. Under annual development agenda, the government also released Rs 10.7 billion for Railways Division out of total allocation of Rs16 billion, Rs 7.7 billion for Interior Division, and Rs 8.38 billion for National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination Division.

Revenue Division received Rs 4.3 billion whereas the Cabinet Division also received Rs 30.18 billion for which an amount of Rs 39.986 billion has been allocated for the year 2019-20.

The government also released Rs 26.9 billion for Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) block and other projects out of its allocations of Rs 27.26 billion and Rs 16.54 billion for Gilgit Baltistan (Block and other projects).

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Covid-19

Pakistan’s small businesses hit hard by COVID-19

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Small businesses in Pakistan have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The low demand at home, disruptions in supply chains, constraints in international trading, and expected prolonged lockdowns are now leading to severe cash flow problems, the inability to pay back debts and cancellation of orders from clients. 

This rising uncertainty is gradually leading them to lay off employees which will have welfare implications. In some sectors where recovery is difficult to predict, small businesses have started planning for the worst: complete shutdown. This crisis could also imply a much bleaker outcome for the startup ecosystem in Pakistan.  

The government has announced a SME relief package. The central bank has also come forward to relieve some of the funding and finance related concerns of private enterprises. Yet, many micro and small businesses do not understand how to apply or if they are eligible, to receive such assistance. There are others who argue that this one off relief may not be enough given that businesses are going to face depressed demand for a longer term. Pakistan’s past record of small businesses trying to access such fiscal packages is also not encouraging, partly because many such firms do not access formal banking channels for their needs or banks impose steep collateral requirements. Also, large segments of micro enterprises have the entire or some components of their businesses in the informal sector.

Federal and provincial governments have two issues to address now: how to ensure that small businesses are able to access and utilize existing government-provided assistance, and secondly, what more can be done to support private enterprise in these times.

A progressive fiscal policy and commitment to redistributive taxation is in line with the spirit of Riasat-e-Madinah to which Prime Minister Imran Khan often refers to. A sincere effort is required to reduce the burden of compliance costs faced by small firms- often filing returns several times during a year and to multiple tax bodies across the country. 

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed

On the former, it would be best to start by addressing information and outreach gaps. As the problems for businesses are evolving in real-time, hence there remains a need for structured and more frequent public-private dialogue which should be inclusive enough to also give representation to women, youth-led firms and social enterprises. Such a dialogue will also give a sense to the government about how these businesses will get affected in the forthcoming rounds of Covid-19.

On the latter, I believe the forthcoming budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 should be seen as an opportunity not only to provide support to collapsing businesses but also to put in place economic incentives that encourage enterprises to consider resilient business models. A large part of this has to do with reimagining a better taxation regime.

A progressive fiscal policy and commitment to redistributive taxation is in line with the spirit of Riasat-e-Madinah to which Prime Minister Imran Khan often refers to. A sincere effort is required to reduce the burden of compliance costs faced by small firms – often filing returns several times during a year and to multiple tax bodies across the country. It is an opportunity now to automate, rationalize or eliminate several filing and payment layers in taxation to ultimately help reduce the cost of doing business.

After a lot of persuasion from local think tanks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), federal and provincial governments agreed to establish a National Tax Council (NTC) to harmonize the general sales tax (GST). 

Currently all provinces have a different structure of GST on services. There are also issues regarding definition of certain activities which the federal government may assume to be under its jurisdiction. Perhaps smaller firms have been the hardest hit due to the fragmented tax structure across the federation and it is time now to expedite NTC’s establishment and work in this direction. Even when the system is finally harmonized, the GST should not be collected by multiple windows at federal and provincial levels. A unified tax return and collection should be made possible through online mechanisms.

It will also be timely to think about which sectors should be motivated to scale up production and services in the face of this health-related emergency. Hospitals and private clinics operating at micro, small, and medium scale are primary candidates for cut in GST on services and even rationalization in direct tax rates. Firms producing personal protective equipment should also see a relief in taxes. The trade taxes faced by such producers or even hospitals importing from abroad need to be revisited. The agro-based and food processing enterprises will need similar help as their input supplies face price and supply volatilities.

Covid-19 also increased demand on several other sectors providing essential services. Our policy circles have rarely seen these sectors as important for the social and mental wellbeing of society until the pandemic struck. It will now be timely to recognize the services of firms (including schools) providing online services. The economic policy managers must think out of the box how best to leverage e-commerce in the battle against Covid-19. 

– Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is an economist and former civil servant. He is author of ‘Pakistan’s Agenda for Economic Reforms’ published by the Oxford University Press. Twitter: @vaqarahmed

Courtesy : ArabNews

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