Politics of governance – Fahd Husain

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TAIMUR Saleem Jhagra is in danger of becoming a good man.

As the health minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he has spearheaded the project to provide universal basic health insurance to the people of his province. On Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the project that will see 40 million people getting insured for up to Rs1m per year.

This is big. This is unprecedented. This is exciting governance not seen since Shahbaz Sharif left the office of the chief minister of Punjab. This also feeds into a larger debate whose time has come. But first, revel in the details of Mr Jhagra’s worthy endeavour.

Here’s what some of the basic treatment up to Rs200,000 includes: emergency treatment requiring admission, maternity services, fractures and injuries, general surgery (gallbladder, biopsy etc), and general medicine (diabetes, hypertension, cardiac, etc). Advance treatment up to Rs 400,000 includes cardiovascular, artificial limbs, kidney diseases and breast cancer screening. Additional coverage up to Rs 400,000 includes cancer treatment, kidney transplant, accident and emergency, and ICU.

According to the official announcement, an agreement between the KP government and State Life Insurance has enabled the launch of this programme. If it can actually be operationalised as planned and envisaged, it would be a tremendous achievement by the government. There is, however, a larger point.

It has in recent years become fashionable to talk about politics and governance as two separate entities that may be linked by a thread but aren’t exactly two sides of a coin. The urban (and rural) myth says development works are important for citizens, but they do not automatically translate into votes. The romantics among our politicians believe the drudgery of any task that entails making the lives of citizens better can never compare with the enchantment of political defiance that quickens the pulse and pulls at the heartstrings of the disenfranchised and the dispossessed. There may be some truth to this in a land like ours that has never really seen evolved politics or matured governance, but the logic of the romantics — an oxymoron right there — weakens on a core assumption.

The assumption: that voters actually have a choice between the fruits of development and attraction of an ideology. This choice is a non-existent one — and yet it feeds directly into the larger point subconsciously highlighted by Taimur Jhagra’s exciting scheme.

If politics at its core is all about improving the lives of citizens, then governance is the vehicle on which this purpose rides. But governance per se is a vague and expansive concept and therefore doesn’t fully explain or identify the priorities that directly impact the well-being of the citizen. Murad Saeed, for instance, might say that investing in the National Highway Authority means improving the road infrastructure which in turns facilitates ease of travel, which, in fact, is an enriching aspect in people’s lives. Asad Umar might argue that his Planning Division will green-light mega projects that will in turn produce goods and services needed by the people and will also generate employment. Omar Ayub might declare that he will ensure reduction in electricity tariff for consumers by negotiating with IPPs and hence enable citizens to save considerable amounts from their household budgets.

All three are right. But partially so.

Times demand (another) cricket analogy. An imaginary PCB has decided to improve the game in Pakistan. The management gets to work: one department lays out the best ground with high-quality grass and a fantastically prepared pitch. Another department puts up the biggest brightest lights atop the stadium and refurbishes stands to accommodate a larger crowd. Yet another PCB department renovates the pavilion and VIP boxes with leather upholstered seating and plush interiors while the next department signs a hugely lucrative contract for global TV rights. Thumbs up. All is set to take Pakistani cricket to dizzying heights of glory.

Oh wait. We forgot the players.

Yes, when Pakistanis citizens get beaten and abused by the police, it is a reminder that we have forgotten the players; when Pakistanis beg on the street because we did not educate them, it is a reminder that we have forgotten the players; when citizens do not have recourse to justice while the law favours the strong, it is a reminder that we have forgotten the players; and when they suffer the pain of disease in the absence of affordable and accessible health facilities, it is a reminder — if ever one was needed — that we have forgotten the players.

The change in PTI’s tabdeeli needs to make a U-turn back to its original manifesto. If Pakistan has to grow out of its state of backwardness and poverty, it needs highways and shipping lanes and tourism spots and cheaper electricity, but more than all these — much more and a thousand times more – it needs to educate every single child, it needs to reform every single policeman, it needs to provide health to every single citizen and it needs to give justice, true justice, to all. This is the prerequisite to everything else. This is the core of progress. This is what politics is for. This is what governance is for.

This is what governments are for.

An educated and empowered citizenry — secure in its rights, level playing field, equality of opportunity and rule of law — will enrich the economy like no finance ministry policy can. This is such a rudimentary fact that we pay no attention to it. Literally.

You know what is right with this government? That people like Taimur Jhagra have decided not to forget the players who make the game.

You know what is wrong with this government? That it has forgotten to reform the police, forgotten to declare an education emergency, forgotten to legislate judicial reforms and forgotten to apply the rule of law to all citizens regardless of their status.

Pakistan needs a few good men and women to bring the national focus back to where it belongs — the people. Grounds, lights and VIP enclosures can wait.