KARACHI -- Government officials, local organisations and residents are seeking to ditch Chinese firms that were contracted for garbage disposal work in Karachi.
Urban flooding in late July, combined with the companies' failure to fulfill their responsibilities, has led to a breakdown of daily life in the city.
The Sindh government inked two agreements in 2007 and 2008 with Chinese sanitation firms Changyi Kangjie Sanitation Engineering Company and Hangzhou Jinjiang Sanitation Services, respectively, for the door-to-door collection of garbage in the city.
Under a contract awarded in February 2017, the Sindh government was to pay $26 (Rs. 4,200) per metric tonne of garbage collected, 8.5 times more than what the Karachi district municipality was paying for the service, the Express Tribune reported at the time.
The Chinese firms pledged to carry out the door-to-door collection of solid waste and to install waste bins equipped with microchips on every major street.
The companies, which began operating in 2018, have yet to keep those promises, and garbage rapidly began to build up.
China already has come under scrutiny in Pakistan for allowing the smuggling of counterfeit drugs into the country, and Chinese firms have been accused of supplying substandard ventilators and personal protective equipment used to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
In August 2019, the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB), a Sindh government body for managing solid waste issues, issued a notice to the Chinese firms for their failure to remove garbage from two Karachi districts -- Malir and Korangi.
"The performance of the contractors remained disappointing from the beginning. Collecting garbage from the doors of houses was a key component of the contract, but the company failed in it," read the notice.
"The contractors also failed to keep the roads, streets, neighbourhoods, and footpaths clean," the notice said.
"The companies provided insufficient dust bins, equipment, and machinery, which resulted in the accumulation of heaps of garbage," it added.
Last October, Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani warned the Chinese companies that they were not keeping up with their responsibilities, according to a spokesman for the commissioner's office.
In a heated debate in the Sindh Assembly last November over the garbage crisis, then-Information Minister Saeed Ghani said the Sindh government had halted advance payments and would pay the Chinese companies only when they fulfilled their contracts, The Nation reported.
The Sindh government should immediately cancel the contracts of Chinese firms and hand them over to the local companies, said Mujtaba Ali, an urban rights activist in the Malir area.
"They [the Chinese firms] have been charging the government extra money but turned a blind eye to heaps of garbage on the city roads," said Ali, who has written several complaints against Chinese companies to the government.
Overflowing garbage bins on the roads are a common sight throughout the city, he said.
The Chinese firms also have been deducting leave from workers' salaries, irking trade unions.
The Sindh government in March declared a coronavirus lockdown and announced paid leave for all workers, vowing that no one would be laid off.
However, the Chinese companies deducted the leave from the salaries of hundreds of workers, including coolies, drivers and surveyors, disobeying the government's orders, Daily Dunya reported April 29.
The deductions ranged from Rs. 2,000 to 22,000 ($12 to $130).
The Chinese companies behave inhumanely and maintain anti-labour attitudes, Syed Zulfiqar Shah, a trade union leader who has campaigned against giving contracts to Chinese firms, said.
"Despite the lockdown, the workers have been working day and night to clean the city of garbage, but the Chinese firms have been illegally deducting from their salaries," said Shah, who heads a union of municipality workers.
"The companies have not been giving them [workers] appointment letters," said Muzamili Shah, a coolie working with one of the Chinese firms, referring to written contracts that would protect the workers' rights.
Instead of paying through banks, the Chinese firms have been paying workers with cash after taking the illegal deductions. The practice deprives the workers of an electronic or paper trail if they want to point out irregularities.
"They [Chinese companies] sack the workers who dare to protest against them," Shah said.