No quitters

December 04, 2022

Disquiet has followed the announcement by Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan that the party will leave the provincial assemblies

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he Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has entered the last year of its second five-year term. Having won back to back elections, the PTI has been in power in the province for almost a decade. No other party has ever won two consecutive terms in the provincial government. Its detractors say the PTI’s two-term rule in the province will be remembered for mismanagement and corruption.

After coming to power for the second time, no mega project was launched after corruption scandals mired projects like BRT and Billion Trees Tsunami in the first five year term from 2013 to 2018. Rather, an attempt was made to investigate the Malam Jabba corruption scandal. Critics say the impact of mismanagement in the Education and Health Departments is now beginning visible. In the health sector, the Medical Teaching Institute was made autonomous. The move was meant to improve service delivery at the teaching hospitals while reducing the financial burden on the public exchequer. Efficiency consultants were brought in and paid hefty salaries. New high-salary posts were created in every hospital. Some said the project went ahead only because Dr Nosherwan Burki, the architect of the new system, was related the PTI chairman. Many senior doctors say the autonomy benefited certain ‘mafias’ but not the patients. They allege that unscrupulous people quickly formed groups at these hospital and started experimenting with the policies to line their own pockets. This, they say, also started a race to recruit favourites to well-paid positions. The bottom line is that these hospitals are still being funded by the provincial treasury.

Many complaints regarding the MTI system were discussed in the media, but the cabinet and the Health Department swore by it. Some doctors, including those represented by the Young Doctors’ Association protested against the policies and their implementation but failed to stop their march. There have been many reports of corruption at Lady Reading Hospital, but the Health Department pretends to be helpless. Recently, a doctor took up the allegations of corruption with Health Minister Taimur Jhagra in a crowded gathering. For this he was removed from the hospital.

A private hospital voucher-based Sehat Card programme was launched to divert attention away from this waste of resources and mismanagement in the public sector. The scheme is a kind of health insurance. Some doctors says hardly any programme in history has been abused like the Sehat Card. Its beneficiaries have included low-quality private hospitals.

The conditions at the Education Department are pathetic. The high school results this year were the worst in the history of the province. Students and their parents have been trying to avoid going to government schools and colleges. According to a Benazir Income Support Programme survey, the dropout rate for male and female students from schools last year touched a worrying 39 percent. These children had made it to school but could not or did not continue. The chief minister has inaugurated a university in Shangla. Otherwise, there has been development project in the higher education sector in the province. Several universities are facing financial crises and have required bailout packages. Some teachers are worried that universities do not even have money for faculty’s salaries.

The PTI’s two-term rule in the province will be remembered for allegations of mismanagement and corruption.

The security situation has regressed and is now being compared to the times around 2008. Police and security forces are being attacked on an almost daily basis. The crime rate is increasing. Even provincial ministers are said to have received threatening calls from militants and other criminals.

It was in this context that the Tehreek-i-Insaf chief decided to contest the by-elections himself as other candidates fielded by the party might not have won the election. It was a smart move and he won all the seats in the National Assembly from the KP.

However, his decision to dissolve the Pakhtunkhwa government has left the provincial cabinet distraught. The election year has started. They needed to make their best efforts to consolidate their constituencies, accelerate development work and completing the projects they have started. They also needed to raise funds for the upcoming elections. But the surprise announcement by Imran Khan has caused chaos.

Many party members see hard days ahead on account of corruption scandals involving billions of rupees.

A former civil servant says if the government is not around to defend itself guilty decisions might come in several cases. Some important PTI leaders might then end up behind bars. Some Tehreek-i-Insaaf members has hoped that following the general elections a new government will be formed and the allegations of corruption against their government will be forgotten. It the party withdraws from the government now, their defence will not be heard. The opposition will then call for strict accountability of PTI before the general elections.

Sources in the provincial bureaucracy say that civil servants as well as politicians have started taking precautions. No bureaucrat wants to face court appearances or get arrested on account of allegations against the outgoing government. Several ministers are said to have approached the chief minister with requests to change their secretaries. There is an effort to create the impression the senior bureaucracy is subordinate to the federal government and special instructions have been issued to it. The ministers are complaining that after the announcement to leave the assemblies, the problems for the Pakhtunkhwa government have increased. They say work has come to a standstill in the province.

The announcement will also impact the next elections. If there was a way for Imran Khan to contest on all the PA seats, it would be fine. However, it is going to be difficult for him to go canvassing for all the party candidates. So far, they have been using government resources in the by-elections and for Khan’s public meetings. If the government is no more, it will be difficult for them to run a political campaign.

An important fault line is the intra-party differences. It was hoped that these would be resolved in the last year using government resources. If their government is about to end, they will lack the resources to resolve the grievances with.

Political pundits believe that the Tehreek-i-Insaf still has a large vote bank in the province. However, they also say that mistakes in awarding tickets can damage it. There are more than two candidates vying for the Tehreek-i-Insaf ticket in every constituency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These candidates will contest the elections in any case so that the Tehreek-i-Insaf vote may get divided. This can only benefit other parties.


The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer



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