Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif has a few peculiarities. One is, he has a penchant for good governance; another is, he doesnt know how to go about it. Speaking at a function in Lahore the other day, he launched a diatribe against the PPP government for patronising corruption and doing nothing to mitigate the sufferings of the masses caused by the spiralling price hike. Indulging in intense finger-pointing at President Asif Zardari and expressing his concern over the way the national wealth is being plundered and stacked away in bank accounts abroad, he said he would prefer sacrificing his own government to striking any compromise with the corrupt regime now ruling the country.
Bad governance is something that hurts him the most. Still, it prevails in Punjab on his watch. Third year into power and he has not been able to turn the province into what he had perceived it to be. The promises he made with the people before the last general election are far from fulfilled. The way the Punjab Government is being run, he cannot be proud of. The dreaded thana culture continues to persist with the police lately assuming the role of the executioner rather than the protector of the citizenry. Prized postings in the Police Department are being given on the basis of loyalty to the House of Sharifs instead of professional competence. If it hadnt been so laid back, Tariq Saleem Dogar could have been anything, (administrator of Bagh-i-Jinnah, maybe) but the provinces top cop. The subordinate judiciary is no exception when it comes to causing frustration to the poor litigants. Despite a substantial increase in the pay packages of judges, the rate of disposal of cases remains abysmally slow.
The steep rise in street crime with incidents of robberies and murders becoming the order of the day, delay or denial of justice at the lower courts and increase in the number of suicide cases caused by abject poverty present the picture of a badly governed society. The Chief Ministers speech was an annoying response to a fellow speaker who had pointed out that a poor man committed suicide because he didnt have the money to buy food for his starving family. That it happened at a stones throw from the Raiwind Palace could have been more disconcerting. But the speaker didnt mention it. Shahbaz admitted he knew about the sense of deprivation among the masses but he was being impatient to tell the audience that it was mainly because of the corrupt practices at the top level that the common man was not getting the facilities to which he was otherwise entitled.
All that he said was part of the PML-N leaderships favourite pastime of running a smear campaign against the President and his Party. The same day, Nawaz Sharifs outbursts were heard from Khairpur trying to put across a message to the Presidency from across the Bhutto heartland: Zardari sahib, mind it the people are angry at every step you have taken so farsuch government is not acceptable that lacks the ability to steer the country out of the crises it is facing. And he sounded no less offensive in his criticism than the kid brother when he started targeting the President for rewarding his corrupt cronies with lucrative positions in public sector organizations. It takes a genius to tell by what percentage the federal government is becoming corrupt every day. Perhaps, Nawaz Sharif can claim to have a yardstick to measure the immeasurable!
But while this campaign goes on, attacks from the PPP side on the Punjab governments corruption have been few and far between. And there is a reason to it. That Shahbaz Sharif has zero tolerance for the scourge is a fact widely known and acknowledged. Barring a few instances where the corrupt ministers have been replaced with their more corrupt cabinet colleagues, the Punjab government has a fairly clean image. But that is not the case on the governance side. And it is because of the peculiar mindset obsessed with running the one-man show rather than giving way to collective wisdom in the decision-making process. You dont have to tax your patience to understand the obvious flaws in the ministerial picks: Mujataba Shujaur Rehman as Education Minister, Ch Abdul Ghafoor of the circus fame as Food Minister, DM Khosa for any of the available portfolios and Rana Sanaullah as Law Minister provided you are not allergic to Governor Salman Taseers assessment.
The problem lies with the Sharif brothers tendency to mind others business. They are still a long way from doing what they had promised. They need to understand that good governance will remain elusive until they do away with their habit of finding fault with the PPP leadership and focus on putting their own house in order.
The writer is Executive Editor, Pakistan Today.