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Saturday November 27, 2021

A soft state

June 06, 2021

LAHORE: Pakistan’s social sector indicators are not in line with its economic performance. Similarly neither its education nor health sector has kept pace with its economy nor has its gender gap reduced.

Still all governments claim that education, health, and gender parity are their top priorities. Education and health are the two sectors that take nations in the shortest time to the next level.

We have two sets of educational institutes one for the elite that are out of reach of the poor and the other for the poor where education is not really imparted. The curriculums are different for each type of educational institution. Efforts to impose a single curriculum have not yet succeeded. The state after carefully selecting a common curriculum must ensure that all schools impart education from the approved curriculum and nothing outside is taught.

The schools should not be classified as English or Urdu medium but apart from Urdu literature and Islamiat all other subjects should be taught in English as in higher education the books are available mostly in English. Two different educational systems have kept Pakistan the most illiterate nation in the region (Afghanistan is an exception).

The government has abdicated its responsibility to provide health care to its citizens. The private clinics and hospitals are out of the reach of the poor. It is ironic that the highly qualified doctors and professors employed by the government in state hospitals hardly see patients at government hospital’s outdoor but remain busy in private practice till midnight every day. They charge exorbitant fees and mostly earn more in a day than their official monthly salary.

The poor social development does not seem to be a matter of concern for those in authority. The creditable reports on its low performance in governance, human development, infant mortality, corruption and lawlessness do not trigger any serious debate in the power circles. The media reports are conveniently ignored as these issues are not hammered regularly.

The rhetoric for change in policy, an improved paradigm of development has never been practically imposed. The statistics are distorted. The economists world over agree that the total GDP of the country is not the true indicator of the income status of the populations particularly in developing economies. They point out that over 50 percent of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of 20-30 percent richest in a poor country like Pakistan, while its 20 percent lowest strata of society is practically resource-less. However the donor agencies and the domestic planners chalk out development programs keeping the average per capita GDP that invariably neglect the poor or the programs are so poorly executed that they do not serve their purpose.

To improve the matter, the GDP of the bottom 20 percent of the population should be considered a better measure for initiating social development programmes than that of the nation as a whole. If the Human Development Index of the bottom 20 percent is chosen as a measure of the state of health of a nation then Pakistan will fare worse in this scenario. The life expectancy, educational performance and even economic performance of the bottom 20 percent will be much poorer than that represented by its lowly Human Development Index.

Successive governments in our country have, since Independence, neglected true rural development and prevention of the formation of slums. Someone in authority should have been concerned why, in spite of enormous sums spent on rural development and on slum improvement, neither has fared well. Because of the wrong development paradigm more and more money is being poured down the same drain.

It is not lack of money but poor governance that is at the root of the problem. More money spent on schools where few teachers, if any, teach or on hospitals where doctors do not attend and have no medicines to give even when they want to, will not improve our social development. Such criticism is always answered by our rulers and administrators to call for more drastic rules and regulations. They forget that ours is a soft state, that few of our rules are ever enforced.

The government should withdraw all discretionary powers and entrust the responsibility of execution of policies to the concerned officers who should be accountable for their deeds so that they could refuse verbal orders. This system will let people know where the buck stops; it will put an end to the verbal instructions that ministers are in the habit of giving. Ministers can still have their way but only by owning responsibility, not otherwise. It will also halt irrelevant objections and interference from other departments whose interests may only be marginal, and is likely to curb corruption too.