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Why Sindh deserved better

August 08, 2016

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Even a cursory look at Qaim Ali Shah's performance screams lackluster leadership and complacency. —Online/File
Even a cursory look at Qaim Ali Shah's performance screams lackluster leadership and complacency. —Online/File

Qaim Ali Shah's resignation as Sindh chief minister led to a series of hagiographic articles focusing on his personal habits and idiosyncrasies.

Presumably written to cast him in a humane light, the pieces, in my opinion, lack any insight on the overall performance of the ex-CM. His tenure should be properly analysed as it was a unique one in several ways.

His departure brought to a close the longest single tenure of a chief minister the province has witnessed. But his occupancy was unique not just for its longevity. Qaim Ali Shah is Sindh's first CM to complete a full term (April 2008- March 2013), and had the luxury of his party’s support at the centre during his tenure.

The restructured and improved seventh National Financial Commission (NFC) Award, 18th amendment and dismantling of the local government system gave him more authority than previous chief ministers and perhaps those after him.

He was fully responsible for the areas of education, healthcare, development, law and order — in short the overall running of the province. As an independent and well-supported chief executive of the province, he had the rare opportunity and time to make an impact.

As a tax payer, I am only interested in Qaim Ali Shah's performance, not that he is a vegetarian or had good filial relations.

History is replete with awful rulers, who had some good qualities. Nero was devoted to the arts, while Hitler was abstemious, a vegetarian, a teetotaler and an animal lover. Foreign correspondents gushed about Joseph Stalin’s personal charm.

The reverse is also true. Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were said to be womanisers, and Winston Churchill spent a small fraction of his life sober. Yet, they were responsible for the New Deal, for winning the Second World War, Civil Rights and the moon landing.

Given a choice, this scribe would rather have a debauched, meat guzzling, utterly hedonistic, but effective, public servant as opposed to a criminally incompetent saint. So when evaluating QAS, the only yardstick should be his performance and fulfillment of duties as CM.

And, in both aspects, he was found severely lacking.

Thar's tragedy

The biggest example can be seen in Thar. For the past few years, most areas of the Tharparkar district have been suffering from intense malnutrition and famine.

According to a report by the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR), almost 1,400 children died of malnutrition in the past two years, while a total of 2,800 children passed away due to measles and other diseases.

It further stated that: “Thar has one district hospital, two rural health centres and three Taluka hospitals to handle a population of 1.3 million people.”

See: Sindh’s leadership transition

Yet, when the ex-CM visited famine victims in March 2014, he gave a few speeches and then retired to the Circuit House at Mithi to enjoy what media reports called “a wedding feast”.

At a public talk held in April this year, Dr Shaikh Tanveer Ahmed — CEO of developmental institution HANDS and one of the largest NGOs of the country — said 481 children under five years of age had died from December 1, 2013 to March 14, 2015.

These deaths did not happen at home but were reported at the District Headquarter Hospital in Mithi, which should be equipped with basic treatment facilities.

What made matters worse was QAS' chilling indifference towards the deaths.

In a media talk in January 2016, he said: “If there was drought and a lack of healthcare facilities, then men and women would also have suffered equally,” he said. He then complained that if a child dies in a mother’s lap, the government is blamed.

Take a look: After all, what is the big deal if a few of them die?

Perhaps, he was unaware of the Sindh Healthcare Commission Act, 2013 that was passed by the Sindh Assembly under his leadership on February 24, 2014, stating that the provincial government is responsible "for improving the quality of healthcare services and banning quackery in the Province of Sindh in all its forms and manifestations".

Education crisis

Article 25A of the 18th Amendment reads: “Right to education: The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law”.

Every year, the provincial assembly of Sindh passes an educational budget running in hundreds of billions, — Rs739 billion last year — and yet Sindh faces an education crisis.

There are almost 7,000 public ghost schools in the province — the running of which costs the state billions of rupees. The Sindh education department claims transparency in hiring and yet neutral bodies identify between 6,000-7,000 teachers, who have been illegally appointed due to political connections.

The Annual Status of Education Survey Report (ASER), which was published in December 2015, states that more than a quarter of school-going children in rural Sindh are not in school, while 20 per cent were never enrolled — the second worst rate after Balochistan.

Almost 40 per cent of first graders cannot read which actually comprises the highest degree of students. The standards and enrollments drop as classes advance. 79pc of Class 5 students cannot read sentences of Class 2 level, while enrollments at Matric level is at 2pc.

Education is largely a supply side problem. There is a severe shortage of functioning schools and of the existing ones, the vast majority are for primary education.

Moreover, education spending is not regularised. For instance, Tharparkar has a tiny fraction of children compared to other districts but it has the largest number of government schools.

Most of the government-school buildings are in a dilapidated state and missing basic facilities such as electricity, drinking water or even boundary walls.

Government-offered higher education has its own set of issues with several reported cases of illegal appointments and extensions of faculty and political interference in running of universities and degree-awarding institutions.

Faculty and staff regularly go on strikes due to delayed salaries and other issues, leading to disruption of academics.

On the law and order front, too, his leadership was lacking. It took an army-led operation in Karachi to restore some semblance of normalcy.

In rural areas, besides robberies and killings, there have been regular cases of forced conversions of minorities that has led to families from interior Sindh seeking refuge in India. Police have been largely occupied in providing security for politicians.

Even a cursory look at QAS' performance screams lacklustre leadership and complacency. But his handlers and sycophants point towards his loyalty to the PPP as a saving grace.

Loyalty to the party is meaningless to an average citizen; the only barometer is performance.

If anything these accounts only strengthen the case that he was more loyal to the party than the people he was meant to serve.

In the aftermath of his resignation, it is often stated that he did not have a free hand to deliver due to orders from the top.

Can an octogenarian really not distinguish between good or bad? If his hands were tied, then shouldn't he have done what any honourable man would do: resign in protest.

Isn't that what Mairaj Mohammad Khan — one of the founding members of the PPP — did after developing differences with the party.

Shah's legacy is a long saga of inefficiency and ineptitude; the people of Sindh can only hope that the new CM will do better.

He will certainly be hard pressed to do any worse.