Pakistan’s majority lawmakers may not be comprehensively familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but their observations from the grass roots level are not different than the global assessment of Islamabad’s slippage on the world ranking.
The opposition members are normally known for criticising any government. And the current ruling party is understandably under attack because of double-digit inflation, slower economic growth and resulting pay cuts and layoffs in the industry along with the poor showing on the development and social sector indicators.
Interestingly, however, the ruling party parliamentarians are also critical of the government’s performance in the social sector, even though it has initiated reforms in the health sector and aims to broaden the protection to the vulnerable segments through Ehsaas.
‘If one believes government reports presented in media, everything is going well. Otherwise, everything sucks’
Former Finance Minister Asad Umar also believes that income support programmes like Benazir Income Support Programme and Ehsaas may be a great service to the most vulnerable but expecting the social sector indicators to improve without economic growth is unthinkable.
He has been struggling to help inhabitants of some new housing schemes in the federal capital to secure electricity and gas connections. Recently, he threatened to revive the sit-in tradition of his party outside parliament to mount pressure on civic agencies that are forcing energy sector utilities not to extend electricity and gas connections.
PTI member of the national assembly from Peshawar, Noor Alam Khan, said his party had been unable to launch schemes that improve social sector indicators as committed under the SDGs. He said he was not well-versed with each indicator but some of the most important ones like health, education, clean drinking water and affordable electricity and gas were deteriorating rather than improving.
Another ruling party parliamentarian from Rawalpindi, Shaikh Rashid Shafique, said he was well aware of the SDGs and also knew that Pakistan had slipped a few positions on the world ranking but the government was currently in the process of formulating policies to improve them.
He said he had received some funds from the government recently for small schemes in his constituency to help address shortcomings. He conceded that these funds were not enough but hoped that things would improve once the government gets out of the current difficult economic situation and focuses more on development and social sector spending.
Chaudhry Adnan, a member of the Punjab assembly, said he was unaware of the SDGs but social sector indicators were improving. He said he recently got funds for clean drinking water schemes and some facilities at schools in his areas.
Mr Khan said there was no improvement in health and education even in the federal capital so not much could be said about other cities and rural areas. Clean drinking water facilities and hospitals were deteriorating. He was at a loss to understand where all the public sector investments were going.
He lamented that prominent hospitals in major cities like Islamabad and Peshawar were doing well only on paper. “You walk around Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, Lady Reading or Khyber Medical Institute Peshawar and just see the filth lying around; you will not feel like going inside for any medical treatment,” he said. If this is the condition of cleanliness in big hospitals, how can diseases be contained? The spread of the dengue epidemic is in front of you.
He said students in public sectors schools in Peshawar were still sitting on gunny pieces and schools do not have shelters. How can the poor population improve its conditions without proper education? He said everything is going well if one believes the government reports presented in media, “otherwise everything sucks”.
Ali Nawaz Awan, MNA said he was well-versed with the SDGs and aware of the fact that its indicators in Pakistan were declining. He said he would prefer not to talk about gender equality and climate change when the availability of even basic human necessities in Islamabad was deteriorating. For example, the drinking water being supplied in the capital is contaminated.
The federal capital faces serious health challenges and water supply shortages. If Islamabad, small in terms of size and population, is enduring such conditions imagine the state of other cities and villages. “You can see malnourished patients coming from rural areas to hospitals in the capital”, he said. “All members of the National Assembly recently received Rs150 million each that we are trying to effectively utilise for provision of clean drinking water and health facilities,” he added.
Raja Khurram Shahzad and Ali Nawaz are also protesting over problems being faced by students being refused admissions in schools and colleges operated by the government. How can you ensure quality education for all when principals and heads of educational institutions turn down students on one pretext or another? As a result, thousands of children were out of colleges and schools, they allege.
“Electricity has become dearer but no one is giving any explanation,” Mr Alam roared in the national assembly last week questioning the possibility of progress on affordable and clean energy — another SDG. “Why are you hiking urea and gas prices? Why have you increased the price of roti (bread)? How will a salaried class person survive?” he asked.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 23rd, 2019