A Chief Minister With A Difference

So much is written and talked about poor governance in Pakistan.

Horrendous stories of inefficiency, incompetence and corruption hit the print and electronic media every day. The country’s image has sunk so low that aid-giving international agencies often bypass government departments and prefer providing funds directly to the private and non-profit organisations. The USAID these days runs an ad on our TV channels inviting the public to report cases of misuse of funds given for various programmes and projects.

It is heartrending to see the way the federal government has messed up the management of such vital national institutions as the Railways, Steel Mills, NICL, and PIA, and how the power rental scandals have been deliberately spawned. The plight of the railway services and the callous manner in which its employees are being treated is just one example of the administration’s rank incompetence and indifference. Thank God, our wide awake higher judiciary keeps a watchful eye on the rulers’ shenanigans, moves to take them to task and seeks to rectify their egregious acts of omission and commission.

It is in this context that in today’s column I would like to write about a pleasant experience.

I was invited last Wednesday to a meeting held by the Punjab Chief Minister Mr Shahbaz Sharif about the steps being taken to cope with the dengue epidemic. A naughty striped mosquito has taken a toll of hundreds of people residing in Lahore and a few other places. Thousands of Pakistanis bitten by this tiny flying creature have been admitted to hospitals. Almost 300 such patients have died so far. The matter has also been politicised with the rival political parties accusing the Punjab government of mishandling the task of providing proper treatment and relief to the people (with hospitals overflowing with patients they are bound to be some complaints and rightful grievances).

Shahbaz Sharif is known for his dynamism and for driving the officials hard to make them do their job properly and promptly. The meeting I attended was quite a surprise. It was held at 7:00am. I am told that similar meetings are held every morning to review the “dengue” situation. The meeting lasted for about two hours during which a dozen or so PowerPoint presentations were made by concerned Secretaries of various departments, as well as related officials representing the city government agencies. A senior dengue expert from Sri Lanka Dr Fernando was also present. An overall picture of various measures initiated on the previous day and plans for the future were unveiled by the Health Secretary. This was followed by other Secretaries in charge of food, agriculture, education, environment, social welfare, forests and such organisations as WASA and PHA. The Chief Minister took note of the information provided, asked searching questions and issued instructions. It was heartening to find him complimenting some of the officers for their laudable performance. The Chief Secretary, Nasir Mahmood Khosa, too, would intervene to add or clarify a point raised by the officers. A special and welcome presentation was an assessment of the various activities spelt out by the concerned departmental heads, along with a review of the media reports about the dengue control operations. The Sri Lankan expert found the administration’s performance satisfactory.

A word here about some of the pertinent commendable initiatives taken as a part of the overall dengue control plans.

i An elaborate programme for the training of doctors and nurses of public and private hospitals is in hand. The training is reviewed now and then to make it more relevant and effective.

“Family physicians should play their role, under the Dengue Control Regulation. It has been made compulsory for them to gain information and training in the treatment of dengue patients,” said the Chief Minister.

He further informed that professors had also started visiting hospitals in the evening, while consultants were going around private and charity hospitals.

He informed that measures had been taken in other affected districts for the eradication of dengue virus where high dependency units were set up for complicated dengue cases. Some of the districts mentioned were Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura and Multan.

The Chief Minister announced that a well organised modern and simple system for the supply of healthy blood to the patients was being started, in addition to the establishment of ‘10 Blood Donors’ registration camps in Lahore and that similar camps were also being set up in a number of other cities.

A welcome side development of the operation is the launching of a well devised cleanliness campaign under the leadership of Lahore Commissioner. This campaign includes spraying at different places in various parts of the city. (I wonder if the sewage-carrying nalas in the city, too, will be taken care of.) Secretary Food reported that his department had taken up inspection and cleanliness of hotels, restaurants and other eateries.

Further, the Chief Minister announced the launching of vigorous campaigns against quacks, who presently play with innocent lives, unchecked.

A part of the overall efforts made on a daily basis are personal visits of the Chief Minister to hospitals and other related sensitive spots of the city. These visits (which frequently attract criticism for his excessive personal involvement in matters that should better be left to ministers and concerned senior officials) keep the officers on their toes as many are proceeded against, peremptorily on the spot.

It is also good to learn that a short, medium and long-term plan was being prepared for the eradication of the dengue virus. It is essential that preventive steps are taken before the onslaught of the epidemic next year when the larvas already produced will grow into deadly flying machines.

As pointed out by a veteran columnist at the meeting, there is need for an extensive involvement of the community at large in the commendable work being done by the official organisations. In addition, he emphasised the need for setting up information and service centres in various places in the city for the convenience of the people.

A deficiency relating to the remarkable performance of the Punjab administration under the Dengue Control Programme is its inadequate projection in the media, especially at the various TV channels. Many a time, a biased or uninformed articulation remains un-rebutted and uncorrected.

Tailpiece: How about the Chief Minister appointing a competent MPA as the provincial Health Minister?