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June 17, 2015

A little change

Opinion

June 17, 2015

Politicians promise everything during election campaigns. They want us to believe that they can boil the oceans and can move the mountains. They castigate others for not doing enough for public interest in the past.
What they do not know or are ashamed to know is that we expect little from them when they come into power. We prefer small things done for us to fairy tales and glossy project proposals.
Imran Khan promised us a new Pakistan – a Pakistan reflecting the vision of Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam – a country where all are equal before the law; where the state serves its people by providing them healthcare and education facilities; where they feel secure and have all socio-economic opportunities available to them for self-fulfilment.
Given the complexity and magnitude of various challenges, it would be naïve to expect too much from him or, for that matter, from any other leader.
Let me list my expectations as a tax-paying citizen. In addition to paying various direct and indirect taxes on consumer goods and services, the government deducts tax at source from my salary each month. As a matter of right, I would certainly have wished to have my kids going to government schools where they could get quality education at par with students in the best private schools. Unfortunately, I pay taxes to the government on the one hand and tuition fee to private schools on the other as the public education system in Pakistan has yet to show any promising results.
One does not ask the rulers to build new schools or allocate hefty budgets for education but one only wishes for a law which restricts or bans politicians and public servants from getting their kids enrolled in private schools and colleges. This small legislation, rest assured, will have a huge impact on the performance of government schools and colleges. Ministers and bureaucrats would take all possible measures to raise the standard of education because their children’s future will be at

stake.
Similarly, as a taxpayer, I would certainly have preferred government hospitals for availing healthcare but, as a matter of compulsion, I go to private hospitals and pay huge medical bills for treatment and timely response. The government hospitals exist to serve doctors and other staff more than patients. If all other things remain constant, senior doctors would visit the wards where they would pass a few consolatory remarks to some patients before they rushed to the OPD for churning out prescriptions and disposing of patients without proper diagnosis.
The tag of job in public hospital carries value in private clinics where the doctor behaves and treats patients quite differently. What one demands from the rulers is not to build new hospitals and purchase sophisticated equipment but to pass a law that debars politicians and public servants from getting treatment abroad or in private hospitals in Pakistan.
This small piece of law will have a profound impact on the functioning of public hospitals. Wilful absence from duty will decline, machines will start functioning, and medicine will be available as and when required.
Then there is the painful story of corruption that has permeated every department. Excessive political interference and weak work ethic have turned public organisations into personal fiefdoms and commercial ventures. Go to the AG office and see how and why people work there. Go to a police station and see how responsive and responsible people are.
One does not demand that our rulers should abolish government organisations to eliminate corruption. What one can ask is for them to modernise the outdated systems. One small change, which has a considerable impact on combating corruption, is the automation of public services. Individual discretion without professionalism has most often led to corrupt practices.
This does not mean that one should not think big or vision statements should be removed from websites and policy documents of government organisations. Vision provides direction and creates creative tension for all stakeholders. It revitalises people when the chips are down and when one’s strategic gains have to be reinforced against tactical failures.
Vision, however, becomes useless when people do not believe or identify with it. It is actually the disconnect between words and deeds that causes frustration. We want a little change – not hollow slogans.
The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]

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