Development in the tribal districts
IF the Punjab government is struggling with governance issues, it appears the KP administration is not far behind.
Read: Over half of KP uplift funds released in three months unutilised
A recent report in this newspaper says the government departments have utilised only 0.4pc of the Rs83bn development outlay for the merged districts in the first six months of the current fiscal year.
After the latest review of the development portfolio, KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan conveyed his displeasure to the 13 departments responsible for this poor show.
The breakdown of the funds spent on development projects, and more importantly, funds not spent at all, paints a dismal picture of the performance of yet another provincial government headed by the PTI.
When it comes to making speeches and commitments about mainstreaming these districts, politicians have been falling over each other to solemnly pledge revolutionary changes. The reality, however, tells another story.
The hefty sum of Rs83bn is a good start because the region has long been neglected and is in dire need of uplift.
After the money is allocated comes the real challenge of skill, capacity and commitment: how to spend it effectively, efficiently and transparently. It is here that the provincial government of the PTI has been falling short repeatedly.
The unfinished BRT project is just one, albeit the most visible and expensive, illustration of the poor governance skills that PTI leaders have displayed in KP.
This mismanagement and poor performance comes at a steep cost for both citizens and the state. The uplift of the merged districts should have been accorded the highest priority by the top leadership of the province.
However, the situation as illustrated by the overwhelmingly unspent amount of the allocated budget puts this steep cost in even sharper focus.
After all, it is not because of any shortage of funds that the provincial government has been unable to address the districts’ need for functioning schools, colleges, hospitals, roads, clean drinking water and many other essential services. What is sadly missing are the will, capacity and the correct list of priorities to get this work done for the people.
In the final analysis, this lack of performance shows the entire government in a bad light. This should be of concern to Prime Minister Imran Khan because these districts have been politically integrated after a long and arduous process. They, in fact, present a challenge to the centre as well as to the province: fulfil all the promises made and bring the fruits of development into the region or risk losing credibility and face. There is much riding on the project to mainstream the tribal districts, and it would be a shame if the PTI leadership fell short of the task at hand.
Police body cams
EXCEPT perhaps for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it fares comparatively better, the police force in the eyes of the public consistently ranks among the least trustworthy institutions. It is a regrettably well-earned reputation, given the incidence of violence against peaceful demonstrators, custodial torture, fake encounters, etc. Sindh’s law enforcers are now turning to technology to bridge this citizen-police trust deficit. On the cards is a surveillance project that would require cops on patrol duty, deputed for snap-checking and deployed at check posts, to wear body cameras for the purpose of accountability. Any transgression on their part will be on the record; for that matter, so will unjustifiable resistance by the members of the public to lawful and reasonable requests by the police. The first consignment of 100 body cams manufactured by a local high-tech company should be on its way after a deal with the firm is finalised. Further down the line, the project is to include monitoring of all police stations in Sindh.
Evidence from developed countries illustrates the important role that body cams can play in determining police culpability in instances where they are alleged to have used unlawful tactics against citizens. However, the rot in the Sindh police involves fundamental, systemic issues that have little to do with technology. It is the mindset of the police, and the government, that is problematic. Cops are trained to function as an oppressive colonial force meant to control the population rather than uphold the law. They are also expected by the government to function as its handmaiden. This politicisation corrupts the force and demoralises capable officers by rewarding loyalty to the powers that be rather than competence and integrity in serving the public. About two years ago, the Sindh government was engaged in a concerted effort — ultimately thwarted by the Supreme Court — to have then provincial IGP A.D Khowaja replaced with a more ‘malleable’ police chief. This year, the provincial dispensation enacted a new law transferring administrative powers back to the government. A few weeks ago, the present IG, Syed Kaleem Imam, wrote to the chief secretary Sindh — another federal appointee like himself — to complain about recent transfers and postings of senior police officials made by the provincial government without consulting him, and thereby undermining his command. Empowering the police to act without fear or favour, and setting up credible oversight mechanisms, is the route to real reform. Gadgets are merely window dressing.
THE outgoing year has proved a devastating one for the anti-polio campaign. As 2019 progressed, reports about the number of polio cases and the mismanagement of the campaign itself went from bad to worse. At least 119 cases have been reported so far, making the previous year’s tally of 12 look almost paltry by comparison. What is also unnerving are the reports of the large number of children who were missed in the vaccination drives. Health authorities in Sindh have revealed that out of the 9m children targeted in the recent polio drive earlier in the month, some 297,000 children were not vaccinated against the crippling disease. The highest number of children who were not administered the vaccine were from Larkana division, followed by Hyderabad division, Shaheed Benazirabad and then Mirpurkhas. Though the number of children may not seem that high given the target of 9m, there are reasons why the matter should still be of concern. The first is that polio officials in Sindh had claimed at the conclusion of the immunisation drive that they had achieved ‘101pc coverage’. In fact, this puzzling assertion was not limited to Sindh; even the Ministry of National Health Services claimed that 99pc children under the age of five had been immunised across the country in the latest vaccination drive.
The other reason is the constant emergence of new polio cases from Sindh and KP, even in winter that is usually seen as as the low-transmission season. Immunisation drives carried out in the colder months are important for building up herd immunity in children, which is more difficult to achieve during the summer. The fact that polio cases keep emerging is a sign that immunisation drives carried out earlier in the year may also have missed their intended targets. The battle against polio is long and Pakistan has just begun its struggle anew. Perhaps it is time to review our anti-polio efforts and make them more transparent and credible for the collective benefit of millions of children across the country.