Karachi’s mayor wants to hand over Frere Hall to a group of architects and prominent citizens who would look after it as a board of Guardians. The cash-strapped city government struggles to maintain this park and heritage site where Sadequain painted a famous mural.
Karachi Municipal Corporation signed an agreement with the Guardians Board, which was disclosed at a press conference by the mayor Friday.
Shahid Firoz is the chairman of the board and the mayor will serve as its patron-in-chief.
But as soon as news broke, criticism poured in over the mayor’s authority to hand over such a heritage site. The Sindh government’s local government department issued a notice reminding the mayor that he was not authorized to take such action. The city government and local government have been at odds over who has power to do what in Karachi. This is a tussle that stems from an MQM-PPP rivalry and inability to get along. The MQM traditionally held the reins of city government and the PPP of the Sindh government. Of late, the Sindh Assembly has been passing laws which have stripped the KMC of its powers. One last remaining power was to manage parks.
On the board of Guardians is well-respected artist Durriya Kazi, who heads the department of Visual Studies at the University of Karachi. SAMAA asked her to comment on the case. She said that respectable citizens of Karachi had come together to make a difference for the city by forming the board.
“It is not an NGO as it is being reported,” she said. “The Guardians board is a group of individuals who have joined hands to improve Frere Hall.”
She said that the board would not disturb anything related to Frere Hall but would try to improve the public property. She spoke of the poor condition Frere Hall’s library was in.
“Frere Hall library is a wonderful place that contains some very important books that are old and in bad condition,” she said. “We have to take measures to bring about some improvements.”
Kazi said that she considered Frere Hall a special place since it held memories for her. She said that like many others, she used to come to Frere Hall often as a child and spent time at the garden and library.
“This structure is one of two that represents our city — the other being Habib Bank Plaza. Hence, we must make efforts to change it for the better,” she said.
Other members of the board include well-respect architect Shahid Abdulla, landscape architect Komal Pervez, architect Yawar Jillani.
We are not changing anything: Wasim Akhtar
Mayor Wasim Akhtar said that Frere Hall had not been handed over to any NGO, contrary to what the media had reported. He said that the board had been formed to improve the condition of the monument.
The Sindh government says that the mayor does not have any authority to hand Frere Hall over to a private entity. This would need a city council vote. “I am the mayor, let me take some decisions,” said Akhtar in response. “We are not changing anything.”
He added that beautiful Sadequain work had been stolen from Frere Hall during the Sindh government’s previous tenure. “Those paintings were later found from the offices of some senior Sindh government officials,” he said.
The city and Sindh governments both believe in outsourcing public work to the private sector. Green belts, for example, are handed over to companies that then put up billboards on them in exchange for maintaining them. This has raised questions about public spaces and how the government should have the budgets to keep them.
(With writing and additional reporting by Shahjahan Khurram)
Story first published: 7th April 2018