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Monday, May 19, 2014

Shahbaz Sharif factor makes strides

Shahbaz Sharif factor makes strides

As the intelligentsia and literati of Pakistan are churning out different theories and definitions based on their in-depth and keen observation of events and personalities, they have come up with two new terms that are quite amazing. One is Shahbaz Sharif factor and the other is human machine or human engine of growth.

Moving among these circles and trying to ascertain the actual meanings of these newly coined terms vis-à-vis the dynamic and energetic personality of Punjab Chief Minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, I was left with no option but to concede to these new epithets for the never-fading spirit behind Punjab’s immense progress. I am talking about the two terms ‘Shahbaz Sharif factor’ and ‘human engine’. No doubt they factually sit well with Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s personality who is not at all an average politician. Such leaders are a priceless asset of a country like Pakistan which is going through some very difficult times obviously over the clash of institutions, politics of power, media proactivity and a tense security situation. Amidst such a complex situation it is easy to overlook that Punjab government is making progress at a rate that is unprecedented in developing countries. It may also be easy to overlook the man behind this: Shahbaz Sharif.

But I agree in toto with some analysts that the CM Punjab is not an average politician. He is not average anything. Anyone who has worked with him will testify that he is a compulsive workaholic, restless, perpetually discontent and fasitidious i.e impossible to please. He is unforgiving, his sense of purpose relentless and his appetite for progress insatiable. Ask any bureaucrat who has worked with him and they will all tell you the same thing. This man is on a mission and he will not let anything stop him, or slow him down. Working for Shahbaz Sharif is not for the faint-hearted. And if one were to go for proper evaluation of the work that has been done in Punjab under Shahbaz Sharif’s nose, it won’t be out of place to opine that what he has achieved is phenomenal. He famously built the Lahore Metro Bus in just 11 months. At the time, Metro was being built, it was hard to find anyone - citizens, bureaucrats, his political opponents or even members of his own political party - who believed he could complete this project in time. Many members of his own political party thought this project would cost them the elections. But he soldiered on. The Lahore Metro Bus now transports over 170,000 passengers every day, it played a central role in the national election campaign and every government in Pakistan wants to replicate it.

In a country where successful projects in government are few and far between, “we can build the Metro bus in eleven months” has become the new mantra in government of Punjab. Recently, a High Court judge admonished a government servant by saying that “if you can build the Metro bus in 11 months, why can’t you upgrade the jails.”

Bridges, fly-overs, roads, schools, hospitals - everything is built in record time when Shahbaz Sharif is supervising it. Even his worst political opponents cannot deny his effectiveness as an administrator. In a country where most state institutions have deteriorated, Shahbaz Sharif somehow manages to drive the government machinery at an unbelievable pace. A businessman who worked briefly in his team explained him as follows: “he seems like a captain of a hoary ship, with half-hearted crew, steering it at hell’s speed purely through his will”. If you sit through government meetings run by him, some of which I also got the chance to attend, given Shahbaz Sharif’s ‘open to media’ approach, this explanation is not far from truth. Some call it his waging finger, others, his impatience, but his indomitable will is surely steering the ship at hell’s speed. One of the meetings that I happened to attend was related to the dengue epidemic that would have been very deadly had Shahbaz Sharif not worked day and night to combat this rapidly emerging crisis.

The fact is that the real mettle of a leader is tested in times of crisis. Shahbaz Shaif was tested twice in his last term: 2010 floods and 2011 dengue epidemic. He performed so well that his handling of these two disasters became campaign slogans. Most experts had prviously predicted thousands of deaths in Lahore when it was hit by one of the world’s worst dengue epidemics in 2011. There were over 21,000 confirmed patients reported in Punjab. But the CM Punjab managed all that with unyielding spirits that can be termed no less than legendary. According to an analyst, he rather marshaled the entire government in a way that was unprecedented in Pakistan. He chaired 76 meetings on the trot at 6 am early morning, in which the entire government machinery presented their daily progress. Experts too were invited from Sri Lanka; SOPs were learnt and implemented overnight; blood infusion machines were imported and hospitals converted into specialized wards; thousands of kits distributed to citizens in a few weeks. The results were also extraordinary. Not a single death occurred due to dengue in 2012 in Punjab! Though experts may disagree about what may have contributed to such a drastic improvement within a year, no one can deny the herculean effort made by Shahbaz Sharif and his team. I am told that many other countries, which once shared their best practices with Pakistan, have started citing Punjab as a role model in using technology and government coordination to successfully manage the dengue. And my own experiecne while I was on a visit to China, also proved this fact as to how much the CM Punjab is liked in foreign capitals for his hard, intelligent work.

Where Shahbaz Sharif’s roads and bridges, and the Metro bus, are often quoted as examples to emulate, Punjab government’s work on education reform has gone almost unreported. Punjab’s school education roadmap, funded by DFID and the Worldbank, has been producing very impressive results. Sir Michael Barbar, a well-known education expert who has spearheaded the program in the past few years, published a report stating: “As of January 2013, as per a conservative estimate, there are 1.5 Million extra children enrolled in school. In addition, student attendance daily is now over 90 per cent, 81,000 new teachers have been hired on merit and more than 35,000 more teachers are present at school every day than two years ago. Over 90 per cent of schools now have basic facilities in place as opposed to less than 70 per cent two years ago. Importantly, across all the indicators there has been a narrowing of the gender gap, although more is required to be done, especially in the south of Punjab.”

In this time, Sir Michael Barbar has traveled to Pakistan every eight weeks and Shahbaz Sharif has religiously followed a well thought out plan. The same program is now being replicated in other provinces, notably KPK.

It is not a surprise that Shahbaz Sharif outperformed everyone else in Pakistan in the recent Gallup survey. Punjab Chief Minister was rated as very good by 21% people. As a comparison, the Sindh CM obtained only 6% while the KPK CM and Balochistan CM each got a mere 4% rating as very good. Going by this survey, Shahbaz Sharif is 4-5 times better than any other Chief Minister in Pakistan! But in the inner circles of the government, his performance is benchmarked against a much stiffer competition: Shahbaz Sharif of 1997. Such is the “Shahbaz Sharif factor”.