Sunday, June 28, 2015

Daily Times editorial June 29, 2015

Blame game on Chairperson PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari returned from Dubai and straightaway plunged into the vortex of the heatwave deaths in Karachi and interior Sindh. His first interaction was with Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who briefed him on the Provincial Disaster Management Agency, Sindh government, PPP, other political parties and NGOs’ efforts to set up relief camps and heatwave treatment centres. In Karachi, the chief minister said 40 such centres have been set up. While Bilawal chose to tread the by now familiar path of blaming others for the crisis, in this case the federal government and K-Electric, he instructed the chief minister to conduct awareness campaigns and double the relief efforts. He also taunted the PML-N on its campaign promise to end load shedding in six months after coming to power. Two years later, what price those claims, Bilawal asked. He also reminded the PML-N of the hue and cry it raised while in opposition about the Nandipur project and circular debt. Where, he asked, did the PML-N stand on these matters today? He accused the federal PML-N government of incompetence, bad governance and corruption regarding the ongoing load shedding crisis, which has led to over 1,250 deaths in Sindh, the vast bulk of these in Karachi, which has also been struggling with a water shortage, a combination that has made the effects of the heatwave even worse. Bilawal asked the chief minister to ensure that ministers of the Sindh government visit the relief camps and hospitals regularly to assess the relief and treatment efforts. He also suggested that the Expo Centre and marriage halls could temporarily be converted into relief camps/heatstroke centres. He underlined the need for CM Qaim Ali Shah to contact the federal government and KL-Electric for immediate steps to improve power supply to the province. Last but not least, Bilawal congratulated the Punjab PPP for staging protests against the tragedy in Karachi/Sindh. Bilawal was not alone in placing blame on others. PTI’s Imran Ismail is bending his back to get an FIR registered against the Sindh government for murder of the heatwave victims through criminal negligence. Federal Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif too has dumped the blame on the Sindh government by saying Karachi was not within the federal government’s mandate (as though it was no longer part of Pakistani territory!). PPP Punjab president Mian Manzoor Wattoo, who played a central role in gathering 26 opposition parties on one platform to protest against the load shedding and deaths in Karachi and Sindh said the PML-N was standing on the wrong side. It could not govern without the support of the opposition. Pakistan’s history showed that when the opposition united against a sitting government, its days were numbered. While the blame game and shifting responsibility remains in full flow, the plight of the dead and dying in Karachi and Sindh barely finds mention or priority in these statements. Both the Sindh PPP government and the PML-N federal government appear unmoved by the criticism of other political parties or sections of society regarding their poor handling of the crisis. Now we hear Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to finally visit Karachi. Is this not something he should have done earlier, before the tragedy had assumed such horrific proportions? Amongst the victims of heatstroke, the poor, street dwellers and those without means to fend off the scorching heat have been amongst the greatest number of the dead. Unclaimed victims’ bodies have perforce had to be buried unclaimed by the score, given the heat, overcrowding in mortuaries, and the incessant load shedding making preservation of remains impossible. The blame game may be the concerned governments’ only defence against criticism of their performance, but it does not help matters a tot. What should have happened as soon as the heatwave hit Karachi was a concerted, combined effort by the federal and Sindh governments to come to grips with the problem on a war footing. Perhaps only then could the horrific death toll have been controlled and minimised. Paralysis at the federal and provincial level, while spotlighting once again the incapacity of the bloated bureaucracies of the National and Provincial Disaster Management Agencies in any emergency, also underlined the ‘confusion’ that has resulted from the devolution under the 18th Amendment. Inadvertently, it has left gaps in the matter of responsibility and combined efforts to combat emergencies. While they struggle to bring the heatwave crisis under control, both the federal and Sindh governments, as well perhaps as the Council of Common Interests, need to put their heads together to learn the appropriate lessons from the crisis and devise ways ad means to prevent such falling between two stools.

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