Rob­bing the poor

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Syed Saa­dat

LIGHTS, cam­era, ac­tion and pack up - the make-be­lieve world of cin­ema re­volves around these words. The real-life drama that goes on in the lives of Pak­ista­nis can also be summed up by these words. Any calamity rang­ing from floods to earth­quakes is bound to get max­i­mum at­ten­tion as long as the media is present. As soon as media teams pack up from the site the vic­tims are for­got­ten, and just like the movie-mak­ing busi­ness, the fo­cus shifts to a new lo­ca­tion.

The story of Awaran, the dis­trict in Balochis­tan that was hit by a 7.1 mag­ni­tude earth­quake in 2013, seemed a bit dif­fer­ent. Work on the post-earth­quake Hous­ing Re­con­struc­tion Awaran (HRA) pro­ject was well un­der way when the in­evitable hap­pened. Op­ti­mism gen­er­ated by the work of a few ded­i­cated in­di­vid­u­als has been marred by the op­por­tunism of a few self-serv­ing in­di­vid­u­als.

Ini­tially no of­fi­cer with ad­e­quate ex­pe­ri­ence was will­ing to take up the as­sign­ment, for Awaran is at the heart of the in­sur­gency in the province and one can sense fear in the air even to­day. Then, Aziz Ja­mali, a civil ser­vant who served for five years in the af­fected ar­eas of Azad Kash­mir and Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa af­ter the 2005 earth­quake, vol­un­teered for the job. His ex­pe­ri­ence in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­con­struc­tion projects made him an ob­vi­ous choice as the pro­ject di­rec­tor of HRA.

A hous­ing pro­ject in Awaran falls prey to po­lit­i­cal med­dling. The said gen­tle­man be­gan his work, mo­bil­is­ing 10,000 fam­i­lies in Awaran to be­come self-builders and re­build their lives af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake. Things started to move at a swift pace with the help of a metic­u­lously raised team. A few hous­ing units were com­pleted in record time, but then the in­evitable hap­pened. As soon as the pro­cure­ment of so­lar pan­els for the com­pleted hous­ing units was ten­dered, the pro­ject di­rec­tor was trans­ferred. Why? Be­cause the pro­ject caught the eye of an in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal fig­ure from Balochis­tan and pro­cure­ment pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for some 'speed money'. Af­ter all, many con­trac­tors would be ready to grease palms to land an over­priced ten­der; even launch­ing a dummy cor­po­ra­tion would pro­vide a great 'busi­ness op­por­tu­nity'.

How­ever, the only prob­lem in this flaw­less plan was the pro­ject di­rec­tor, who be­ing an up­right man would not agree to be part of the racket. He was asked to post­pone hir­ing of staff and ten- ders for pro­cure­ment so that things could be ma­nip­u­lated to ac­com­mo­date per­sonal choices. When the of­fi­cer re­sisted such moves he was made of­fi­cer on spe­cial duty with­out any rea­son given for his un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous re­moval.

Had I been in place of the of­fi­cer I would have packed my bag, and come back to Is­lam­abad or La­hore and lived self­ishly ever af­ter; but this gen­tle­man de­cided to of­fer re­sis­tance.

He was is­sued a stay or­der by the Balochis­tan High Court (BHC) against be­ing trans­ferred but it hardly made any dif­fer­ence be­cause now the com­mis­sioner Kalat has been given the ad­di­tional charge as pro­ject di­rec­tor HRA. The in­cum­bent of­fi­cer has thus ef­fec­tively been re­moved in clear con­tempt of the BHC or­der. The step has also made a mock­ery of the Supreme Court judge­ment on con­sti­tu­tional pe­ti­tion No 23/2012 (filed by Ms Anita Turab for the pro­tec­tion of civil ser­vants) promis­ing ten­ure pro­tec­tion for civil ser­vants.

It is per­ti­nent to men­tion that Kalat is 350 kilo­me­tres from Awaran; it would be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for an al­ready busy of­fi­cer to over­see such a crit­i­cal pro­ject. Soon a new pro­ject di­rec­tor would be ap­pointed and the sole cri­te­rion for se­lec­tion would be servi­tude to the po­lit­i­cal mafia - sadly, the civil ser­vice has many el­e­ments that are at their beck and call. I dare not name the politi­cians in­ter­ested in this pro­ject be­cause I can nei­ther af­ford to be roughed up by their well-kept bul­lies nor can I af­ford per­sonal body­guards.

It is ironic that the province's chief min­is­ter and chief sec­re­tary had ap­plauded the per­for­mance of the pro­ject di­rec­tor who has been trans­ferred and ex­pressed deep sat­is­fac­tion at the pace of work. Need­less to say, they will never take a stand against the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence that has led to the mis­han­dling of the HRA pro­ject be­cause the poor peo­ple who would suf­fer can do them no harm - in this life at least.

De­bate on ju­di­cial ac­tivism aside, one feels that had for­mer chief jus­tice Iftikhar Chaudhry - who hails from Balochis­tan - been around, he would have def­i­nitely taken no­tice of this rob­bery from the poor.

See­ing the fear­less­ness, ini­tia­tive and drive shown by the team in­volved in the HRA, one thought the pro­ject di­rec­tor might even be con­sid­ered for a na­tional award but what is hap­pen­ing is the ex­act op­po­site. Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, once wrote: "You can cut all the flow­ers but you can­not keep spring from com­ing." Lit­tle did he know about Pak­istan in gen­eral and Balochis­tan in par­tic­u­lar.

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