- Capital’s first-ever mayor in a tell-all interview recounts all he went through during past two years as mayor and a 15-month stint as CDA chairman
Julius Caesar once said veni, vidi, vici (a Latin phrase) to sum up his successes after the Battle of Zela, fought in 47 BC. Millenniums later, on a much smaller scale, someone else came, saw and conquered a capital within a span of few months.
Sheikh Anser Aziz, a businessman-turned-politician, rose to a zenith occupied by no one before him. He became the first-ever mayor of Islamabad and ‘one fine evening’ then prime minister bestowed upon him the additional charge of the Capital Development Authority (CDA).
The city had two civic agencies headed by one man. And this continued for 15 months till the high court dethroned the mayor from the CDA chairmanship. The man who once had two titles is hell-bent to go to any lengths to save the one he remains with; the mayorship of Islamabad. Pakistan Today sat with the mayor for a tête-à-tête at his office.
When asked about his stay at CDA and what hurdles he had to put up with, the mayor had a theory about his taking reins of CDA. “We faced a lot of resentment from CDA, lots of impediments from bosses regarding affairs of MCI. Since our funding was done by the CDA, and machinery and personnel were to be transferred and it was an immense transition,” he said.
“The officers found it hard to accept an outsider, they didn’t want to part with their hegemony,” he said while sitting in his expansive, extravagant office where multiple pictures of him with Nawaz Sharif grace the table behind him.
“I communicated all those things to the prime minister at that time and he said you should take both departments and try to turn the situation around,” he said summing up circumstances that led to him becoming mayor-cum-chairman of CDA. “I wanted only one thing, the welfare of the city and I was not in it for the power,” he said.
What will be mayor’s legacy as CDA chairman?
“The legacy that I’ve left is that there is not a single mega corruption scandal during my tenure. That is my main feather in the cap,” he answered with a smirk. “Being CDA chairman is no bed of roses. There is a lot of pressure. Since I was a political nominee, I was held accountable both by the staff and by the people,” he said.
“We tried to improve public dealing and we did bring improvement,” he said recounting his travails as the chairman. “Anybody could come to my office. I’ve rid the bureaucratic red-tapism and made my office accessible to all,” the mayor said and regretted that now things are back to square one as the reign and rule of bureaucratic style is back.
Being a shrewd businessman-turned politicians, the mayor refused to comment on the judicialisation of politics and sought refuge in res subjudice and res judicata. When asked that an overactive NAB breathing down PML-N’s neck, does he feel the heat as things have already got tough for him?
“People fear NAB, bureaucracy fears NAB and with elections just around the corner, things have come to a grinding halt. Nobody is willing to do any work as they think that any lapse will harm them in a long run. However, there is nothing to fear when one is clear and has done nothing wrong,” said the mayor who had recently been under the radar by NAB for inaugurating the Metropolitan Club couple of weeks back.
Anser Aziz had dreams to develop and beautify the city as a whole. He also aimed to complete the road from Koral to Rawat. “We were at final stages and a tender was to be issued within days when they sacked me. Now, the whole project hangs in balance. I made around 60 visits to personally supervise the progress at Koral-Rawat Road,” he said.
When asked about the dubious perception of CDA as an inherently corrupt and beyond redemption institution, the mayor said that the perception was 100% based in experience. And for all, the wheeling and dealing both officials and citizens are equally responsible, he said, adding that the citizens look for easy way out, while the officials aim to bag easy money as facilitation charges. “During my time, things improved a little but then it was back to where it was,” he said.
“I left with a sadder heart but no doubt I was a wiser man. However, this tussle between MCI and CDA will continue unabated,” he replied when asked about his experience at the helm of affairs at the civic agency. The bureaucrats at CDA have no interest in the city as they have no ownership or stake, he remarked when asked about the bureaucrats.
“For us, things have been tough. Our funds have not been released since December 2017. The ultimate losers are the residents of the capital,” he said. “There are many examples in the past that CDA officers were locked, blackmailed, coerced by the union. However, with a political man like me on top, who had backing and roots, it wasn’t possible. We had our might as well,” he said when asked what is the difference between a political man and a bureaucrat.
“When we started exerting ourselves and made them fall in line, the old guard at CDA decided to flex their muscles as they had to do work,” he said. The mayor staunchly believes that there is only one way out, that both the institutions be put under one umbrella, under command of a one man.
“The employees have gone to the court over the transfer from CDA to MCI and around 1100 of them are not willing to join MCI. The matter is pending before the court for the past two years,” he gave an example of how the state of affairs are between the two organisations. “The vested interests never wanted the actual authority and power to be transferred to the people. Can you believe that the Metropolitan Corporation is the only organisation that hasn’t been given a single penny by the government?”
“All decision makers say we should generate our own revenue. Now, how can we do that? CDA has the humongous land bank, give us a share from it and we’ll generate our revenue,” he said in a half-joking manner. “In a present political situation, my foremost struggle is to make sure that MCI survives as an organisation. Also, we’ll have 12 billion rupees allocated in the Public Sector Development Programme for MCI in the next budget.
Mayor Anser Aziz is a man of refined taste and thoroughly fond of unique, expensive accessories. In his designer grey suit sporting a Rolex watch, Mont Blanc pen resting calmly in a front pocket of his coat, spick and span Italian shoes with socks from Hugo Boss to go with, the mayor has the aura of someone who is financially well off and has done well in one’s life. The first-ever mayor, for the uninitiated and the novice, could be mistaken for a top-notch banker, a CEO or a big shot businessman.