The way to go

11 Oct 2020


The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

POLITICAL parties in Pakistan start off with very detailed manifestos but end up trying to do just a couple of mega projects. The PPP in its earliest government enhanced power production with its six cent per unit power policy. The PML-N remained focused on building motorways and metros. In its third tenure, it went for the Orange train and bridging the electricity production gap.

When Imran Khan was campaigning for the 2018 polls his main theme rightly was that nations do not progress on account of brick-and-mortar projects and that human development was the only recipe for progress. He ridiculed spending mega bucks on motorways and metros.

But two years into his term, his priority also seems to have shifted to mega projects. We have seen him announce proudly the launch of the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project in Lahore. He has also announced the construction of a new city on islands off the coast of Karachi.

Even if we leave aside the issue of national priorities, the Lahore project depends on the formation of the lake along the Ravi bed which requires water, as the Ravi is a dead river, post the Indus Waters Treaty. As stated by the government, a large part of this water will come from the effluent of Lahore, which is currently dumped untreated in the river or in open fields.

Human development is the only recipe for progress.

This will require the fixing of Lahore city by setting up water treatment plants and making channels to bring Lahore’s wastewater to the Ravi lake. It will also need fixing Lahore’s municipal capability, which is time-consuming and requires political will.

After the collapse of Karachi due to the recent rains, the government seems to have satisfied its conscience by announcing a Rs1.1 trillion package rather than fix the local bodies system and merge the varied bodies controlling swaths of the city to ensure singularity of command.

That would ruffle a number of feathers and, again, requires political will to implement. In the present state of governance of Karachi even Rs2.2tr would not prevent the collapse of the city the next time calamity hits.

Unfortunately, rather than fixing Karachi, the government is opting to take an escape route and has announced it would build a ‘new Karachi’. Like always education, health, local bodies, public transport continue to receive only lip service.

More than 22 million children don’t go to school. Even with the lowering of parameters of the definition of literacy, the latter is only 60pc. A nation with a nuclear bomb is in the bottom quarter of 190 or so countries of the world in literacy. Can we ever hope to compete with even our neighbours? Bangladesh has a 73pc literacy rate; Nepal 68pc and India 78pc. Can we ever hope to control our population with 53pc of our women illiterate?

We don’t want five years under Imran Khan wasted in a couple of botched mega projects. His well-wishers would like to see him buckle down to tackling human development issues by concentrating his energies on education, health and local bodies.

Education is not building universities or producing PhDs. We have to start from the foundation, which is primary and secondary school level. The future of the nation cannot be left in the hands of expensive private schools or NGOs, though some of which are doing good work. The scale at which improvement is required can only be possible if government education system improves.

Government school teachers are a big trade union, whose members work only when they feel like working. Dedicated teachers in government service have almost become extinct.

The power of this union has to be smashed and government teachers, one of the best-paid government employees in the rural areas and who work for only seven or so months of the year, need to pushed, motivated, disciplined to realise the responsibility of nation building is on their shoulders.

Imran Khan with his immense energy and resolve can do it. Almost assured a full five year term, there is no need for him to go for politically motivated mega projects.

For starters, he should pay surprise visits to rural public schools all over the country in his government-paid helicopter/planes to display his priority. He should punish and reward teachers, highlighting the profiles of both the heroes and villains among them. He should be talking about education in his public speeches as often as he talks about his crusade against corruption.

Similarly, for health he needs to go beyond revamping hospital boards and insurance, and make efficient management and delivery of health services to the populace through Rural Health Centres and government dispensaries his priority. There will be a quantum jump in their delivery the moment health personnel know that they are on his radar.

Well-wishers want Imran Khan to go back to his original vision of prioritising human development to really take the country forward rather than just survive five years.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2020