By Irfan Husain
September 07, 2013
AS the elusive search for peace in Karachi continues, with Nawaz Sharif attempting to forge a consensus, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are no easy answers, no quick fixes.
And it’s not just Karachi, but most of Sindh that seems to have become dysfunctional. A combination of corruption, criminality and poor governance has made the province an administrative black hole.
A column I wrote about wanting to reclaim the PPP from the mafia that currently controls it (Dude, where’s my party?) drew many responses, as did my piece last week about the stark socio-economic contrast in Sindh.
Here’s an excerpt from one written by Farhana Maoji, a businesswoman friend in Karachi:
“To my Beopaari mind it seems so obvious — they [the PPP] have the power and the resources … they just have to do their jobs — nothing more — and they are on to a winner. The fact that we both know that it is probably not going to happen is the tragedy. If they just worked while they were in office instead of looking at everything with a view to trying to work out what they can skim out of it would make a gigantic difference…”
Another old friend who runs an NGO in Sindh puts similar thoughts in a less elegant way:
“You better start looking for another party because your current one will be flushed down the drain in 2018 — along with all the stinking s--- that’s floating around in rural Sindh and Karachi.”
A primary schoolteacher who has asked not be named sent this harrowing description of ground realities in rural Sindh. I am quoting him here without corrections:
“… do you know govt provides course books free of cost, but in every school head master charges 20 rupees from each student and supervisors have also share from that money. In mostly schools teachers pay 1,000 rupees to head masters and in return they are allowed to remain absent. V just got school management fund for maintenance of school but not a single rupee will be spent on school that will go in the pockets of headmaster and supervisor…
“In our village … govt middle school is occupied by police now it is a police station, even quarters of basic health unit has become the residence of SHO, DSP respectively. In high school, there are 20 teachers; no single teacher is ready to come to school … headmaster gets 3000/5000 rupees from each teacher. Only 4 unqualified matriculate boys teach at high school level. This is the plight of education!”
Clearly, things have not reached such a pass overnight. Decades of poor governance are needed to cause this level of decay and deterioration.
It is common knowledge that politicians fight to get the education portfolio because they can charge huge amounts to appoint schoolteachers; there are additional benefits by way of development funds and foreign aid.
In a way, everybody in the system benefits. Ministers, bureaucrats, headmasters, supervisors and teachers all have their little Khanchas, or fiddles. The only ones to get short-changed are the students.
Given this state of affairs, it should hardly surprise us that, according to a British Council report, half of all Pakistani schoolchildren cannot read a single sentence; 25 million children do not get a primary education; and a third of all Pakistanis have spent less than two years at school. Alarmingly, 30,000 school buildings are so poorly maintained that they are dangerous; 21,000 schools have no buildings at all.
If these are national figures, rest assured that the situation is even worse in Sindh where local Waderas, or feudals, routinely take over the local school buildings for their own pleasures. And this is the class that fills our national and provincial assemblies with public representatives.
Returning to the PPP and its awful track record in governance, one has to be naïve or hopelessly optimistic to expect the party to get its act together.
Corruption is as deeply ingrained in its ethos as spots are imprinted on a leopard’s skin. And to make matters worse, Sindh, for some reason, seems more prone to institutionalised venality than the other provinces.
I know that Pakistan has a very poor reputation in fiscal probity, but in three decades of government service, my experience was that Sindh is blighted by more corruption than the rest of the country. Politicians and bureaucrats alike seem to feel it’s their right to make hay while they are in office. They live openly beyond their means, and there is absolutely no stigma attached to their lavish lifestyle.
Again, based on my experience, I have often felt that many of our problems are not due to a lack of resources, but a shortage of political will. The fact is that even the pittance that is allocated to education does not get spent due to bureaucratic incompetence. And as unspent funds revert to the exchequer at the end of the fiscal year, it is criminal that we are unable to utilise the money that is earmarked for education.
If the PPP government wishes to actually perform over the next five years, it will need to alter its mindset.
It is necessary to have an education minister with a clean reputation, and he needs to look for a few equally honest and efficient civil servants to head his department. No political interference or Sifarish would be accepted under this dispensation.
I realise this is not going to happen in my lifetime. Conditions that exist elsewhere as a matter of routine are viewed as impossibly idealistic in Pakistan — 26 countries poorer than Pakistan manage to have more children in classrooms than we do.
Asking the PPP government in Sindh to just get on and do its job is apparently asking for the moon.