Flawed governance

28 Oct 2014


The writer is a social activist.
The writer is a social activist.

IT was recently reported that a senior PPP leader told a party member referring to the poor governance in Sindh that ‘it is the best-governed province in the country’.

One’s instant reaction is that if Sindh is indeed the best-governed province of Pakistan, what state would it be in if it were the worst-governed? Does this assertion depict a disconnect from reality or refusing to admit the facts?

It is difficult to believe politicians to be oblivious to the destitution and poverty that continues to afflict ordinary Sindh residents as they groan under the weight of a malfunctioning and incompetent government — factors leading to a general consensus that Sindh is perhaps the worst-administered amongst all the provinces.

Governance is generally judged by the law and order situation; the shape of physical infrastructure, level of poverty; investment climate; availability of jobs; status of the social sector especially in health, education, family planning; and finally, people’s participation in planning and development.

Senior politicians are supposed to be aware of the extent of deterioration of law and order, the erosion of the investment climate, and the weakening of physical infrastructure in Sindh. They cannot be oblivious to the province’s poverty and unemployment levels compared to other provinces. They must know that even the implementation of an elementary programme such as routine immunisation coverage is dismally poor. And that a huge percentage of children in rural Sindh remain without education, thousands of ‘ghost’ teachers exist, and family planning programmes are hardly in evidence.

Sindh’s urban centres have become virtual garbage dumps.

Sindh’s chief minister claimed a while back that he had created 200,000 jobs for unemployed youth, but it is common knowledge that most of these jobs are non-productive. Almost all government departments have been overburdened with excess staff, a number of whom appear for work once a month merely to collect their salary.

In fact, many believe Sindh to be the most corrupt province. There is no trace of merit in public recruitment. All jobs have a price tag or posts are filled on the basis of sifarish.

There is no place for upright and competent officers in Sindh. It appears that the ministers select the most corrupt and pliable secretaries and then go on a plundering spree because there is no accountability. As a result, in most ‘nation-building departments’, a huge chunk of funds fail to reach the target groups. A notorious nexus of consultants, engineers, contractors and ministers continues to cheat the government in an organised way.

Some people may believe that infrastructure in Sindh is poor because of the scarcity of funds. But the truth is that the money allocated annually for Sindh is never fully utilised, almost one-third lapsing every year. The Sindh government has no capacity or desire to fully utilise the money which is available for the improvement of services.

In 2008, the Sindh chief minister announced that 100,000 homes would be built for those with low incomes. The sum of Rs2 billion was allocated in the budget for this purpose, but these funds lapsed because there was no effort to utilise them properly. Ironically, the chief minister said during the last PPP government that some 50,000 acres of state land had been grabbed by the land mafia in Karachi alone.

The PPP has done nothing to ensure local government elections are held in Sindh. In the absence of elected local bodies, the worsening situation of basic civic services in Sindh is evident. All urban centres have become virtual garbage dumps, with potholed roads and sewage-filled streets. Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana and Nawabshah are examples of cities on which billions have been spent in the name of development, but that present a dismal picture.

Karachi is the worst sufferer. Apart from a crumbling infrastructure and high crime rate, it is without a mass transit system, unlike other megacities around the world. People have to travel on rooftops of ramshackle buses. There is an acute shortage of drinking water for the local population and 85pc of sewage is disposed of without any treatment. Half the garbage is left to rot in the streets.

Who is responsible for handing over important institutions such as the KWSB and KMC in Karachi to handpicked bureaucrats who are playing havoc with the city? There is no citizen representation in these important civic bodies and others like them, nor do they have the capacity to devise long-term policies. Master planning, traffic management and housing for the poor are things of the past. Now the development strategy is determined by developers, contractors and the land mafia.

In Punjab, computerisation of the revenue record is in progress, while in KP we hear improvement in the ‘thana culture’ and non-interference of politicians in police work. Does one hear anything positive related to the reform agenda in Sindh?

The writer is a social activist.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2014