I strongly believe that local governments are the real key to resolve the problems of our country.
His Excellency Ch Muhammad Sarwar, the incumbent Governor of Punjab, is a statesman having a vast experience in British as well as Pakistani politics. He has been a Member of British Parliament from 1997 to 2010 and was the first ever British Pakistani MP. He was sworn in as the 35th Governor of Punjab on August 5, 2013. Since he became the Governor, he has made indelible marks on the history of Pakistan, especially the province he heads.
His Excellency played a key role in the grant of GSP Plus status to Pakistan by the EU. In addition, his efforts for the betterment of Punjab in the field of education have also been remarkable.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): Being the Governor of Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, what is your vision and plans thereof for its development? Would you please also elaborate the steps taken by the Punjab government in this regard?
Governor Punjab (GP): Since Punjab alone hosts more than 50% of Pakistan’s total population, so its development is a multifaceted phenomenon. Educating people, bringing good health facilities and providing clean drinking water to the masses are foremost among challenges. As regards your question about my vision and plans, I am, of course, concerned a lot about our children’s education. Unfortunately, more than seven million children in Punjab are out of schools; 4 million of them being girls. It is so because they just don’t have money to spend on fees, books, uniform, and other things. Therefore, my topmost priority is to send all these children to school.
As far as efforts are concerned, ‘The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance’ was promulgated recently under which the free and compulsory education to children between the ages of 5 and 16 years is the responsibility of Punjab government. Furthermore, a global conference on education ”Unfinished Agenda in Education, the Way Forward” was held in Islamabad. Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General on Education, and a former British PM, Mr Gordon Brown, and CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, Alice Albright, were special guests. At the conference, it was committed that the Government of Pakistan will earmark 4 per cent of GDP for education whereas the international community will provide US$400 million.
Furthermore, missing facilities at schools is another challenge for us. Regrettably, schools, especially those for girls, don’t even have the boundary walls and toilets. We are working vigorously to provide all schools with as much facilities as we can.
JWT: At present, hardly any public sector university in Punjab is on the World’s Best Universities list. In your capacity as the chancellor of these universities, what are your plans to better the state of affairs?
GP: We, undoubtedly, have enormous potential and our universities abound in the talented students. I say it so confidently because whenever I go to attend some convocation, I prefer to have a Q & A session with the students. I must say they are of great calibre and university professors and administration are doing splendid job to polish students’ skills. Relentless efforts to get the collaboration of international universities are always on from our side. This would definitely be helpful in acquiring the status and prestige which the European universities enjoy. So, the crux is that the situation is not that all bleak actually. University of Agriculture Faisalabad is now ranked among top 100 universities of the world and it’s a good omen.
JWT: You are the appellate court ex officio in cases related to provincial ombudsman. How are you working to resolve the cases that have piled up since years?
GP: It’s a very good question indeed. Actually, when I took over as the Governor, I was told about the number of cases pending with my office since 2006. So, I immediately told my staff that no case should lie pending with us for more than six months. And, by the grace of Allah, I have heard more than a thousand cases within ten months.
JWT: You played a key role in the grant of GSP Plus status to Pakistan by the EU. Owing to the acute energy crisis and various other problems faced by our industries, how do you see the future of this facility?
GP: Yes, you are absolutely right. It is imperative to create favourable environment if we want to get maximum advantage from the GSP Plus status. We have to improve law and order situation because people don’t invest in a country where they feel threatened. Terrorism is another big impediment to it. Our industries are also facing acute energy crisis. We can definitely raise our textile exports from current US$13 billion to US$26 billion within next five years. But, for this, we have to ensure continued and cheap supply of electricity and gas to our industries. Present government is trying very hard to resolve these issues.
JWT: All over the world, delegation of powers is almost inevitable when it comes to run government affairs. Do you think concentration of powers can ensure good governance in Pakistan because the situation is altogether different here?
GP: I wish I could convince people that all the developed nations believe in devolution of powers. In Europe, the powers have been devolved to town and village level. But, unfortunately, the case is different in Pakistan. It is to be understood that those occupying the lavish offices hardly know the problems faced by the masses. Only the delegation as well as devolution of powers can ensure solutions to all their problems.
JWT: Local governments serve as nurseries for country’s future leadership. But despite Supreme Court orders to hold local bodies’ elections, why it still is a distant dream in Punjab?
GP: Unfortunately, we indulge in blame game; the judiciary blames the government and parties blame each other. But, I strongly believe that local governments are the real key to resolve the problems of our country. Unfortunately, the MPs in our country feel like they are elected only to build roads and develop infrastructure. But, in reality, parliamentarians are supposed to legislate instead of building roads and infrastructure because those fall in the ambit of local governments.
JWT: In Pakistan, mostly those individuals join the noble profession of teaching who can’t do well in other professions. Even bigger issue is that people are least interested in teaching in public sector institutions. What are your plans to combat this problem and enhance teachers training programmes?
GP: See, we have already started a comprehensive teachers training programme in collaboration with UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID). They are providing Â£ 350 million for this purpose. We are also recruiting more teachers for schools across the province. And I believe that teachers must be trained because in civil services, officers go through a number of training courses in Pakistan as well as abroad but the teachers just don’t.
JWT: You have a vast experience of British as well as Pakistani style of politics. What are the major differences between the two?
GP: Well, in Britain, the system is centuries-old and well-established but even that is not absolutely flawless. The parliamentarians regularly have debates and they legislate to resolve the issues. However, half of Pakistan’s history since independence is marked by military rule. Nevertheless, I am sure if the democracy is allowed to flourish, then the system and institutions will also get strengthened. To me the biggest difference between the systems of both countries is that they, unlike Pakistan, strengthen institutions, not personalities.
JWT: Do you think you could have become the governor of a province if you had started politics in Pakistan?
GP: To be honest, I don’t think so. An ordinary person cannot even become an MP what to talk about the governorship. To be a successful politician here in Pakistan, you must have a plenty of wealth, certain acres of land and should make huge spendings during election campaigns. However, we must establish and strengthen a system that allows an ordinary person to grow according to his or her abilities. This is indispensable to ensure that Pakistan treads on the path to development.
JWT: Would you like to give any message to our youth?
GP: I believe youth is the only unifying force in the country and only they can change the fate of Pakistan. I would like to mention a heartening fact that our young ladies are miles ahead of their male counterparts in many fields. For instance, I recently attended convocation of the University of Gujrat. There were 105 medallists and out of them 84 were girls. Our country’s future will be more secure in the hands of women, because in last 68 years we, the men, have failed this country.