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KARACHI: The opposition benches in the Sindh Assembly on Tuesday asked the politicians — those in the government in particular — and senior bureaucrats to get treatment at public sector hospitals as, they believed, that might improve the service delivery system of those “ill-standard and poorly-run” healthcare facilities.

Resuming general debate on the annual budget presented by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Samar Ali Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said the existing hospitals being run by the provincial health ministry could well be improved if public servants were bound to get treatment from government-run hospitals.

“Until these bureaucrats get treatment [at government facilities], our hospitals [will not] improve from the existing poor conditions,” said Mr Khan.

Laments that health and education are being let out on contracts

Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s Sheeraz Waheed, who has defected to the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), during his speech said none of the politicians, particularly those belonging to the government, received treatment at government hospitals.

“Until these politicians get [themselves] treated at these hospitals, all investments and claims thereof vis-à-vis improvement in health sector are [a] farce,” he said.

He added that things would improve when those politicians realised that they would have to get treatment from public sector hospitals and their children were to be taught in government-run schools.

The debate entered its second day with Speaker Siraj Durrani in the chair in which nine lawmakers, eight of them affiliated with the opposition parties, articulated their reflections over the budget, the last by the present government.

Pakistan Muslim League-Functional’s Mehtab Rashdi said next fiscal’s budget offered the greatest deficit (Rs20 billion) in the 70-year history of the provincial legislature.

She claimed the government had put together a jumble of figures in mountains of papers and presented it as next year’s budget before the people.

Speaking on the current fiscal’s nine-month report, she said there were nine government departments which did not spend a single penny on development schemes during that period; six of the departments spent from 1-18 per cent, which included finance, katchi abadis, cooperatives, revenue, mines and minerals.

She said the government’s practice was pathetically self-centred when expenditure on luxuries of ministers and bureaucrats and other heads was fully utilised.

“Budget documents are made in a manner that one should believe that Sindh will prosper at least on paper,” she said.

Ms Rashdi said agriculture and other sectors were being poorly treated; the government was aimlessly wandering without having strategy; and the situation had not changed in the past 10 years.

Ms Rashdi said if Sindh did not get its share from Islamabad, it still had its own resources, but the incumbent authorities were not able to utilise those resources as well.

She wondered on the provincial government’s announcement to set up schools offering Cambridge school system, adding, “this shows the government accepts its failure in our own education system”.

She said if institutions in health and education ministries were being awarded “on contract” then “why don’t you contract out the entire government?”

Samar Khan in his speech did not hide his utter dejection over “the state of affairs Sindh was going through for the past five years”.

He said he was so dejected that he would quit politics after conclusion of the assembly’s current mandate and would not contest for next tenure.

“I am very disappointed. Nothing has changed in the past five years. I don’t see these long years have benefited our people by any means. I would not contest election again. In fact, I have wasted full five years of my life,” he said.

He said the speech he was making himself was “useless”, which would not bring any change in the lives of the people of Sindh.

Mr Khan said the promises of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ that the PPP had offered since its inception had not yet been realised.

“[Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto is still alive, but, unfortunately, this great leader’s dream has long [been] dead and buried,” he said.

He said Sindh was still trapped by the colonial mindset as “we are coconuts, who are brown from outside, but actually angrez (Englishmen) from inside”.

He said the province was plagued with unprecedented malnutrition. The health ministry should tell us how many hospitals are in Karachi only, not the whole of Sindh, when Australia, a country of 22 million, has established 2,300 hospitals.

He said what should make everyone ashamed was the fact that toilets were not available in most girls schools.

He claimed upon his request to the education minister for making available toilets in girls schools in his constituency he was told a powerful lady in the ruling party had ordered not to do so in schools falling in NA-250 and related provincial constituencies.

MQM’s Sumeta Syed, who has defected to PSP, said schemes relating to closed-circuit television cameras were not being properly implemented, as was the case with the culture ministry’s schemes. She said much needed to be improved in Sindh’s prisons.

She claimed 198 children died of malnutrition in Thar in the first four months of the current year.

She said instead of vague mention vis-à-vis sustainable development goals, the budget should have offered clear policy towards it.

MQM’s Sabir Qaimkhani said more than Rs800bn had been allocated for non-development work. He said more investment was needed on technical education to have better job opportunities for youth in the CPEC projects.

He said the opposition members represented almost half of Sindh’s population, yet, they had been ignored pathetically.

Khursheed Junejo of the PPP said Islamabad’s delays and cuts in providing National Finance Commission award had always affected development works. He demanded the federation should hand over its taxes to the provinces.

Mr Junejo appreciated the government’s focus on lining of canals, which, he added, would save Sindh’s lands from being destroyed as earlier 2.7 acres were being destroyed every five minutes as per an earlier international survey.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Hussain Sheerazi said people of Thatta and Sujawal districts had rejected the Zulfikarabad project and questioned why the government had allocated Rs100m for the project for next year’s budget.

MQM’s Rashid Khilji said the government had spent just Rs98bn out of more than Rs250bn development budget so far in the current fiscal.

PML-F’s Waryam Faqir said the government had failed to provide relief to growers. He said majority of officers were themselves facing graft inquiries. He asked the rulers not to make Dubai richer at the expense of Sindh.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2018