The Pandemic Should Have Led To Revisiting Our Priorities

The COVID 19 has exposed our lack of collective decision-making ability. Far too many people were adamant on not following the government’s SOPs to save themselves from the virus. And at times it seems the authorities were willingly collaborating to spread the virus in the country. Mosques were opened. The country witnessed a surge in the pandemic after Eid-shopping. The malls and shops were opened before Eid on the directions of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile a turf war raged between the federal government and Sindh government; each accusing each other for their lukewarm efforts to face the epidemic.

These experiences of a lack of governance have been very instructive about the rulers’ capacity to rule the country. And now, hands are up: the people are left on their own, the government is busy manipulating data on COVID 19 affectees.

Let us examine a few instances of this abdication of the role of governance.

Parliament’s role

The parliament of Pakistan was the only forum to address this grievous blow to the country that has halted economic activities in the world. But the parliament turned out to be a mere debating club and the role of the speaker is just to announce the names. Is our parliament performing its four main functions as carried out in other democracies of the world? Let the reader judge.

The speaker of the National Assembly provides a floor to treasury benches for rebuttal of questions raised by the opposition – instead of inviting ministers to answer the questions of the opposition by offering the policy statements of the government. That shows the government lacks policies to implement. In the past, the current parliament has witnessed its minister for parliamentary affairs reading quotes from the Quaid -e-Azam M. A. Jinnah when asked about the policy of the government on the issues brought by the opposition to the parliament.

The Economy and Industrial Growth

The economy of the country is continuing its nosedive from 5.5% growth rate to -0.2 % which is the lowest depth in the history of the country. Unfortunately, in the past, we didn’t have policies for industrial growth to boost the employment rate and standard of living of our population. A study (Ajmair, 2017) shows that the industrial growth rate was zero to below zero in the years 1972, 1997, 2009 and 2013. Growth rate in the industrial sector was more than 15% in the years 1960, 1970 and 2004 and otherwise was between 0 and 15%. “From the linear trend we can conclude that growth of the industrial sector is moving forward with decreasing trends.” The study suggests further that the contribution of the industrial sector in exports is decreasing with the passage of time.

Remittances

The other major factor in a developing country like Pakistan remains the remittances; the money that economic migrants, poor otherwise, send back to their country. The remittances have a strong “and statisticacally significant impact on poverty reduction” in the country. The government of Pakistan, in 2009, initiated a proposed National Emigration Policy to assess the policy compliance with the rights and concerns of emigrants and their family members. A study was conduct under a policy paper series in 2010 to suggest important measures to be taken to address the issues of the economic migrants of the country and to take measures to improve the quality of labour keeping in view the demands of the hosting countries. The proposals for the National Emigration Policy were never followed up and it remained closed in the files till today.

Any attempt at capacity-building of Overseas Employment Promoters was ignored in the Gulf Arab countries where the major chunk of our remittances are earned. The majority is left unattended by the relevant Pakistani embassies to starve on the streets of the Gulf Arab countries. White collar workers who have been employed in the faculty of different universities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for instance, are asked to expect minimal wages or to leave the country. Some of them were maltreated by the administration of the universities. The ministry handling the affairs of overseas of Pakistanis is run today by Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari who doesn’t seem to be very interested in addressing the plight of the overseas Pakistanis.

The Education Sector

The education sector, which is a major source of social mobility and poverty alleviation, is desperately ignored. The Governor of Punjab wants to dress up education in compliance with the ideology of Pakistan. Meanwhile public sector schools speak volumes of the mis governance by the governments of the past and the present. The hierarchy of the education administration needs revamping.

Rs 64 billion were allocated for education in the budget of 2020-21. The Punjab government allocated Rs 2b for primary, Rs30 b for secondary and Rs34 b for tertiary education – all in all, it amounted to 16% of the total budget of the province. It is only in Sindh that an increase in the education budget 2020-21 is seen. The Sindh government increased the education budget from 212.4 bn to 244.5 bn this year – which amounts to 25.2% of the total revenue of the province.

That the education sector is still lagging due to the poor policies of the Sindh government again speaks volumes of the poor performance of the education administration and the mis governance of the incumbents of the province.

In Balochistan Rs 63.5 b have been allocated for education. The education sector in Balochistan is cruelly ignored so far. “According to UNICEF, 60 to 70 percent children in Baluchistan are out of school. 78 percent of girls of school-going age and 67 percent of boys are out of school. One of the main reasons for so many out-of-school children is the long distances between the school and their homes. “’When it comes to educating girls, we do not have separate schools for them. If someone has relatives in Turbat, Panjgor or Hub, they send their sons over, but girls are neglected,’ says Haleef Sakhi, a resident of Kolwa. It is believed that most parents in the area think that girls do not need education because they will be married off.” reports Ali Jan Maqsood in his brilliant article Challenges of Education in Baluchistan (The News, 19 Jan, 2020).

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province allocated only Rs 18,687 million for education. Many a research article has been published to highlight the poor performance of the education sector in KP. The significant indicators are dropouts, absenteeism of teachers, ghost schools and poor teaching methodologies. Last year it came to light that teachers of almost 100 schools simply never went to their schools.

Poorly trained teachers

Back in the early years of Pakistan, until the late 1970s, teachers were enrolled for refresher courses annually held in every district head quarters of the country and it was compulsory. But with political interference and lack of will of the administration, now those institutions are only serving to facilitate the bulk of teachers who do nothing.

The faculty in our universities is also poorly trained and still the focus is on teacher-centered learning. Research work is either of poor quality and/or is mostly plagiarized.

Such are the economic and social indicators of Pakistan today.

COVID 19 has only made the lack of vision stand out in sharp relief. Can we survive without addressing these indicators? One fears a fatal lack of imagination on the part of those who respond in the affirmative.