Rising Karachi website sinks below expectations of interactivity
By: Saad Hasan
KARACHI: While the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s website came online amid much fanfare in the first week of October, software analysts as well as citizens are wondering when, if ever, will it deliver the kind of information and services that it was originally supposed to.
A brainchild of KMC administrator Mohammad Hussain Syed, the website carries details about popular food outlets, hotels, hospitals as well as OPD timings of doctors and information about traffic jams and bus routes. However, almost all of that information is also available on other websites.
“This is just another informational platform, which reminds me of web pages that governments designed in the 1990s,” said Jehan Ara, president of Pakistan Software Houses Association. “That era has long gone. Now it’s the age of interactive websites,” she added, while pointing out some major deficiencies in the new KMC website.
While KMC has installed a mobile phone application on the website, it only comes in handy for people on the go who want to look up a restaurant or hospital. The administration is not ready to reveal the number of times the application has been downloaded since the website came online. It would also not provide any details about the cost of the entire project.
When asked about the presence of other websites that essentially provided city-related information to the public, Abdul Nasir, the director of the Rising Karachi project, said that the scope of the KMC website would be expanded within the next few months.
When the website was going through its trial period in August and September Mohammad Hussain Syed had said that residents would be notified about traffic jams along major thoroughfares through text messages. The messages would also suggest alternative routes that commuters could take to avoid the traffic jams. “There is no way for people to know which alternate routes they need to take in case of a gridlock [at a major thoroughfare], Syed had said at the time. He had also claimed that KMC would try to map as many shops and small general stores it could, and then incorporate them with the Rising Karachi mobile application.
While large stores and supermarkets, popular hotspots and food franchises can be found through Google Maps, pinpointing the location of a local shoe store or a boutique remains difficult.
Comparison with the FBR’s website
Jehan Ara said that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was one government entity that was effectively using the internet. “You can file income tax returns online and you don’t have to go to their office to submit the documents. This is something that should happen across other [government] departments as well.”
The FBR introduced the online system for filing tax returns as part of its effort to minimise tax evasion and corruption. The website has essentially removed any interaction between the public and tax officials. Keeping track of all the paper records was also one less headache it has to worry now.
Greasing the system
KMC can perhaps learn from the FBR and tailor its website in such a way that it benefits a broader group of people. One of the most frequented offices at KMC headquarters at Civic Centre is that of the Karachi Development Authority (KDA). “You have to come to that office for everything,” said a senior KDA official. “There is no escaping it because all of our records are on paper, and we have to dig out the files in order to look up a particular case.”
Citizens are particularly annoyed by the fact that they have to “grease the palms” of lower staff, including clerks and others who are known as babus. “They won’t move your file for approval, or will make you come to the office repeatedly if you don’t bribe them. No one knows how to end this,” said the KDA official.