Thursday June 30, 2022

Awards for our doctors

August 30, 2021

The neglect to recognize the healthcare community in the recently announced ‘Pakistan Civil Awards’ has once again raised questions regarding the process of recognizing civilian heroes and if it's inclusive of all professions.

This year on Independence Day, the president awarded names of 126 Pakistani nationals and foreigners who are to be awarded for showing excellence and courage in their respective fields. Per media reports, the healthcare community was shocked that the sacrifices of hundreds of doctors, paramedics, nurses and pharmacists, frontline fighters against Covid-19, went unrecognised.

Although two healthcare providers – Dr Shehla Baqi and Dr Muhammad Haroon Memon – are there in the list, one is not sure if they are being awarded for their work against Covid-19 as their complete profile will be read during the investiture ceremony that will take place on Pakistan Day, March 23, next year.

Regardless, the healthcare community has not been awarded appropriately as over 250 healthcare workers have lost their lives while extending care to Covid-19 victims. However, there are other issues surrounding the awarding process.

In Pakistan, the bureaucratic process of making heroes only recognizes curriculum-based past performances and does not create potential future leaders to inspire others to pursue constitutional rights and principles of policy. Unlike the global trend of involving broader segments of society, selecting heroes is restricted to the official corridors.

Except for one press release issued on August 13, there is no consolidated record of awardees in the public domain, their profiles, and achievements and official and non-official educational forums for awardees to interact with the bulging youth population.

Pakistan Civil Awards comprise five orders – The Order of Pakistan; The Order of Shujaat; The Order of Imtiaz; The Order of Quaid-e-Azam; The Order of Khidmat; and the President's Award for Pride of Performance. Except for the President's Award for Pride of Performance, there are four categories in each order – Nishan, Hilal, Sitara and Tamgha.

Awarding and honouring citizens for meritorious services is managed by an award wing in the Cabinet Division. Recommendations for the Pakistan Civil Awards are invited by the Cabinet Division in December every year from all ministries/divisions and provincial governments. The Main Awards Committee's final recommendations are sent to the president through the prime minister for final approval. The awards are announced on the eve of Independence Day on August 14, while the Investiture Ceremony is held on March 23 at the Aiwan-e-Sadr.

The investiture ceremony is the only time the cabinet secretary reads the recipients’ achievements. Afterwards, his or her name is entered in the gazette and in a register maintained in the cabinet division, which is not freely accessible to the public.

The constitution only authorises the president to award decorations in recognition of gallantry, including meritorious service in the armed forces, academic distinction or distinction in the field of sports or nursing. Federal and provincial governments cannot confer awards. The law bars Pakistani citizens from accepting any title, honour or decoration from any foreign state without the federal government's approval.

Under the Decorations Act, 1975, gallantry has been redefined to include an act of bravery, heroism, courage, and rendering dedicated services with selfless devotion to human rights and public service.

The term 'academic distinction' includes research, performance in medicine, science, engineering, technology, philosophy, history, literature or the arts, and inventions of national importance. The award money is Rs1 million only.

Interestingly, unlike the Nobel Prize, where only alive persons are decorated, persons are also awarded posthumously in Pakistan with a higher award money of 1.3 million compared to the living heroes.

In 2020, out of six persons awarded Nishan-e-Imtiaz for arts and literature, half of them were given posthumously. These include Zahoor ul Haq, Dr Jameel Jalibi and revolutionary poet Ahmed Faraz. Interestingly, Ahmed Faraz in 2006 returned the Hilal-e-Imtiaz award he was given in 2004 by the Gen Musharraf government.

Earlier in 2001, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy also refused to accept the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, saying that the award did not carry any prestige or credibility in professional circles.

The official award process is revised many times. According to the federal government's ‘General Instructions and Legal Provisions for Making Recommendations for Pakistan Civil Awards’, in 2017, a quantitative criterion was approved by the then prime minister for conferment of civil awards in the fields of academics, art and literature, public service, and sports. A nominee has to score out of a maximum of 100 marks. Mainly the higher scores are allocated for years of experience, publications in international journals or exhibitions, education, and participation in international events and winning of awards.

There were also suggestions to form special committees of scholars to assist, but they are not much implemented. As per a March 2020 notification, there are three committees, with the central committee headed by the federal minister for planning and reforms. Its 23 members mainly consist of federal secretaries, provincial chief secretaries. In addition, it can co-opt known experts (no criteria are given).

The 19-member subcommittee on social/welfare work/charity and philanthropy is headed by the minister of human rights and has the same official composition without non-official members. The subcommittee on arts and literature is run by the minister of information, broadcasting, national history and literary heritage. It has four non-official advisors, most of those belong to official institutions.

The subcommittee on science, engineering and education has 22 members with the same official composition and is headed by the minister for science and technology. Unfortunately, the minutes of the meetings are not available.

Pakistan can make the awarding system more robust and experts inclusive by taking a cue from the most prestigious Nobel prizes. Spread over 120 years, the Nobel prize awards’ records given in peace, physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and economic sciences are meticulously maintained. The prize amount is around $1.1 million.

Till last year, 934 laureates and 28 organisations have been awarded Nobel. However, the nomination process is not restricted. The Nobel Committee sends nomination forms to about 3,000 individuals, usually in September, the year before the prizes are awarded. These individuals are generally prominent academics working in a relevant area.

The nominations for the peace award are broader and can be made among others by members of national assemblies and national governments (cabinet members/ministers) of sovereign states as well as current heads of states; members of the International Court of Justice; members of the international board of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; University professors, professors emeriti and associate professors of history, social sciences, law, philosophy, theology, and religion; university rectors and university directors (or their equivalents); directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes; and persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The names of the nominees and other information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later. Though yet to be complete, there is a digital database of 18,354 nominations for different Nobel prizes.

The government should take inspiration from the Nobel award process and see that awarding healthcare workers fighting Covid-19 and projecting them as heroes will revamp not only the fight against the Covid pandemic but will also produce future leaders in the field.

The writer is a freelance contributor.