There is a deal so ominous, one can hardly resist referring to an uproarious meme about an angry woman accusing the government of selling out; a meme that this deal retroactively validates.

A few days ago, it was reported that the Sindh Government has decided to handover an iconic park in Karachi to private real estate giant - Bahria Town - for ten years. This falls well within the category of decisions that challenge the public’s perception of the legal limits of our appointed policymakers' powers.

Imagine if the citizens of Lahore were to wake up tomorrow to discover that the Lahore Fort has been handed over to a Chinese corporation, and that Iqbal Park would henceforth be known as Nestle Park. They may find themselves questioning the bare legality of such a deal, before even mentioning ethics. Public property, by definition, signifies the collective ownership of the people, not a private asset like a car or a house to be casually sold away at the trader’s personal whim.

What makes the deal even more curious, is the fact the Mayor of Karachi had not been consulted.

Privatization is not a new concept. In 2013, the government handed over Gwadar Port to China. Last year, the government’s decision to privatize Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), became a national controversy. By June, Pakistan Steel Mills and OGDCL are expected to be privatized as well.

The provincial government, however, defended this deal as being distinct from conventional privatization. Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim will only be handed over to Bahria Town for ten years, during which the park may not be used for commercial activity. Government officials described the transaction in rosy terms like ‘adoption’, and claimed it as a way of encouraging private interest in the maintenance and renovation of public properties like parks.

It seems pertinent to quote Noam Chomsky at this point:

“That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital."

Faisal Subzwari of MQM noted something similar, and said the following:

“For the last three or four years, the provincial government has deliberately neglected the park and turned it into ruins so that there’s justification for handing it over to a private company”

He further alleged that the park was being handed over to Bahria Town on the condition that it would be allowed to use 8 of its more than 130 acres of land for its commercial use, calling such condition “exploitation of people’s rights”.

The opposition’s claims may be unverified, but they are plausible. Why would Bahria Town need to take over a public park for 10 years for renovation, which took only 10 months to build? Why would the government even need to transfer the ownership of an asset to a private company for renovation?

Malik Riaz responded to what he decried as “propaganda” against Bahria Town’s venture, and claimed - to his credit - that the deal will not go through until all stakeholders are satisfied. As with all public property, the people of Karachi may well count themselves in as 'stakeholders' who have a say in the matter.

Mr. Riaz denied commercial interest in the property. But it may be appropriate to take into account the real estate mogul’s history of business deals and capitalist expansionism. Yousaf Masti of the Awami Workers Party, accused projects like Bahria Town of being like “atomic bombs” as far as the poor are concerned. And Malik Riaz himself confessed to offering massive bribes in the process of expanding his empire. He frankly admitted:

“If I tell you the amount of the biggest bribe I have ever paid, you will have a heart attack”

We appoint our leaders to look after and preserve our public spaces. The policy of careless distribution of national assets to private corporations, wrestles with the very reason for the government’s existence.

If the administration sells off the very thing it’s meant to administrate, what is it the ‘administration’ of anyway?

'Ye bik gayi hai gormint' has long been the half-believable, half-jokey rhetoric of the frustrated citizen. Is it possible that we’re entered an age of corruption and incompetence where this joke begs to be taken seriously?