Asif The Braveheart, fixing KW&SB one World Bank dollar at a time
Somewhere in the World Bank a staffer is laughing. This is what I imagine is the case because I am laughing. I fell out of my chair laughing right now because in the course of slapping together what I thought was a routine press handout from Sindh Chief Minister House, I came across a rare gem, the kind that makes covering the Sindh government worth the tedium: Asif The Braveheart. Mind the capitalisation.
The handout was issued Monday after the Sindh Cabinet held a marathon five-hour meeting to make very important VIP decisions. These press handouts summarising the very important decisions are usually shipped out by evening to a syndicate of hacks, yours truly included. As I trawled through it, wheat procurement, domiciles, Rapid Response Force, my eye stopped at “Water & Sewerage Corporation”. This was actually very important.
The Sindh Cabinet had approved the Karachi Water & Sewerage Corporation Bill, 2022, something that I had been waiting for because it means that we are getting closer to actually fixing the KWSB. (Anyone reading this in Karachi will not need any further boring explanations on how our water supply sucks.)
So, a few years ago, the World Bank agreed to loan us $80 million to fix the water board. The plan took the shape of the KWSSIP, which is a tedious mouthful for Karachi Water and Sewerage Services Improvement Project. The only way to fix the beast was to turn the KWSB into a corporation or KWSC. And the Sindh Cabinet had just done that.
I started editing the press handout, trimming the charbi and reworking the bureaucratspeak (PRO Rasheed Channa, if you are reading this…give me a call some time). The Karachi Water & Sewerage Corporation will have a board, be chaired by Karachi’s Mayor (a good decision). It will have nine non-official members (academia, civil society, water & sewerage specialists, legal & financial experts) and two Sindh MPAs.
The corporation shall be managed by a CEO appointed by the board of the KWSC for a period of four years. It would have a Chief Operating Officer, a Chief Financial Officer, a Chief Internal Audit Officer, and a Chief IT Officer. The corporation shall develop and approve plans for water delivery and approve budgets.
I was just about to publish this brief news but then I thought I’d just check on the money trail. So I wandered over to the World Bank’s site, which is kept up-to-date and is transparent on the money spent, the tenders, contracts and progress on projects.
Sure, enough, I saw that Sindh was marked as having received a “disbursement” of $7.7 million in January and had been head hunting for a CEO and reform unit staff. I started opening documents to check. And that is when I burst out laughing.
In the section on procurement, an officer called Asif the Braveheart has been signing off on documents.
At first I thought the newsroom had really gotten to me, but then I realised that Asif The Braveheart was a real person. His email provided for correspondence on the tenders and plans was asif_thebraveheart at hotmail dot com.
My investigative journalism skills went into overdrive as I dug deeper into the bowels of the internet. It emerged, rather swiftly, that Asif Ali Khan is listed as Deputy Director – Investment, KWSSIP. He has 30 years’ experience of working on developing schemes in the KW&SB, including the World Bank financed K-II Project, K-III Project, K-IV Project, S-III Project, 65 MGD Project, 100 MGD Dhabeji Pump House Project.
What confounds the mind, however, is that a million-dollar project is being run by men, bureaucrats, who are using their 1999 Hotmail account for not only official correspondence but also engagement with an international donor. Although, you have to give Asif Ali Khan some credit, you’d have to be a braveheart to battle it through and survive the KWSB for 30 years.
Asif Ali Khan told me over the phone that the World Bank had its own system and he uploaded the documents. The World Bank manages its own website, he added.
Of course, it is innocent enough. (And to be fair, another staffer called Masooma Rizvi used her Gmail account to upload documents). Little World Bank elves automatically extracted Asif Ali Khan’s Hotmail given Name and Surname — but for the love of Marvi is this how our systems should work? Ideally all work should be done from an official email address to protect institutional memory, documentation and security.
The KWSSIP has a janky website, probably built with World Bank dollars. Perhaps part of the reforms could have included money to give officers proper email addresses. How about [email protected]?
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