Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Of Governance Scandals And Clean Hands

We are sometimes accused by partisan supporters of opposition political parties of being soft on or for not being more vehement about denouncing the alleged corruption or misgovernance of the currently ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). While I could point to dozens of examples to dispute these claims, I would like to explain, once again, a couple of things.

Firstly, we do not brook real corrupt practises, arrogance or misgovernance; our only problem is when either claims are made without substantial proof or when such allegations are made arbitrarily only against the PPP and without context, as if everyone else - from the military to the judiciary to other political parties - is innocent of any blame and everything was hunky dory aside from the times that the PPP has been in power. This is not to say that the PPP should not be hauled up for its sins, only to provide a more balanced perspective.

But even more importantly than this is the fact that in the context of a mainstream media that overwhelmingly targets the ruling party (usually because that is in the nature of the media and sometimes because of less salubrious vested reasons), it makes little sense for us to repeat the same charges. The mainstream media has far, far more resources and outreach than we do and, to be sure, it is perfectly justified in its criticisms when it investigates and exposes real corruption and misgovernance. Our role, as we see it on the other hand, is not to reinforce what the dominant narrative is, but to provide, hopefully, some perspective, sometimes corrections and an alternative narrative where required.

Punjab Laptop Scheme: note the personal publicity

In any case, with that bit of explanation out of the way (and there is a connection which I will come to later), let me get down to what this post really is about. Those who follow us on Twitter will know that we already expressed our opposition to the Punjab Goverment's laptop distribution scheme. Our main contention against the scheme was two-fold:

1. That this was a wasteful publicity stunt that, like the disastrous Sasti Roti scheme before it, would drain the public exchequer without addressing real issues and would divert resources that could be better utilized in more productive schemes with more long-term benefit. 
2. That if providing access to computers to students is the goal, giving away laptops to individual students is possibly one of the worst solutions possible. Laptops, by their very nature, are more fragile, less upgradable and more prone to breakage and theft.

Keep in mind that our critique did not revolve around the issues of corruption or maladministration of the scheme, only its conceptualisation.

However, yesterday, Dunya TV's Khari Baat Lucman Ke Saath programme carried a devastating expose of how this scheme has really been run. It is a shocking expose of a scandal that most mainstream media has chosen to ignore so far, probably because it is too busy with stories about Memogate and exposing the federal government's malfeasance in the NRO case. I managed to catch the programme on repeat today and really think everyone who was upset at our opposition to the scheme should take a look at. (Hasan Nisar doesn't really add much to the programme but I am including the whole programme here so that you can appreciate the solid work and research that went into it. Kudos to the young reporter Huzaifa Rehman Qureshi who did most of it and to Mubasher Lucman for carrying it.)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

So basically, not only was there apparently huge financial bungling in the procurements of laptops and in the publicity of the scheme, many of those who benefited from the scheme were either PMLN supporters, mediocre students or affluent people who did not deserve to be subsidized by the state.

This laptop scheme was announced in November last year. It has taken the mainstream media six months to raise serious issues about it (even though there were various murmurings against it online for some time). Most of the time, we have been treated only with PR-type statements justifying it, such as this one  in The Daily Times claiming total transparency in the scheme with no counter narrative or actual investigation of the claims. At the same time, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, is given ample (and often uncritical) coverage in the media vowing to ensure "good governance" and proclaiming that he will "hang the looters of the national wealth (i.e. PPP leaders) publicly."

Coming back to what I began with, can you imagine had such a scandal involved the PPP, that the media would have waited even a moment to pounce on it? Had the PPP been bestowing largesse to its jiyalas, to failed students and making money off it too, would Geo, to cite just one example, have waited six months to run exposes on it? Isn't it about time one questioned why certain people get a much easier ride from the media's vigilant watchdogs than others?


Curious said...

Why is Dawn not tagged in this post? No other paper is either. Express Tribune, on the other hand, had carried a story on how the laptops were being sold through OLX.

Ali Awesome said...

Spot on.

XYZ said...

@Curious:You must work for Express Tribune. If you look properly, Daily Times is also tagged and the reason both are tagged is simply because their stories are linked in the post.

Fraz said...

According to siri @MubasherLucman Dual core 2.0 15 saal purani techology hai another major Lolz

Siri @MubasherLucman said Laptops china mein banay hain ... Major Lolz O bhayee sari dunya ki manufacturing china mein hoti hai

Sheharyar said...

As much as I loved this post and thank you for it, just to mention, Daily Times carried this report highlighting the corruption in the laptop scandal (\04\06\story_6-4-2012_pg7_23), which was then refuted by the Punjab government, but even then the reporter stuck to his report.

PapaBare said...

I agree to what Fraz said and would like to add to it. I was also watching this program yesterday and stopped watching it and changed the channel after this "laptops made in China" part. Somebody tell this idiot that Core2Due is not a 15 year old technology. Hell I am still using a core2due and it works like a charm.
Funny how Mubashar Lookman is suddenly after punjab government. Wonder why he is after petty issues relating to pmln. Wonder he is not doing programs on benazir income support which seems to be 100 times bigger scam than anything that has ever happened in Punjab. Only one thing I can think of is Lafafa. I hope he spends the money wisely.

Ali Awesome said...

The "Why is he doing this good deed and not that good deed" argument is the death of all debate. BTW, If memory serves, he recently did a show on the drug scandal involving PM's son.
Also, ML often appears biased against the PMLN, and perhaps he is, but that is also down to the fact that he is one of the VERY few anchors who ever expose/criticize the Punjab government.

saleem said...

Some info for PapaBare regarding BISP:
1. BISP is an act of Parliament approved with consensus from both the houses. The only objection of PML(N) was with the NAME but then they concede on this;
2. Initially in the first 3 years, due to non-availability of reliable data on poverty, BISP forms were given to all parliamentarians (to identify the poor) irrespective of their party affiliation (MNAs/senators got 8,000 forms while MPAs got 1000 forms each);
3. Both Domestic & International donors, researchers and development practitioners were asking the government of Pakistan since early 90s to develop a Social Safety Net for the poorest of the poor and so the introduction of BISP was due mainly a response to that;
4. Now government has done a door-to-door survey throughout Pakistan to identify the poor using Proxy Means Testing (PMT) which is best international practice. This not only help BISP identification but gave a reliable data on poverty to the country since 1947!
5. Initially, to reduce the involvement of parliamentarian/politicians in HARD CASH, the only person who see the cash was a postman, who deliver the money to the beneficiary. Now even that has been removed and now every BISP beneficiary has an ATM card from BISP to draw the cash from the nearest ATM Machine or with EasyPaisa account.
6. Last. The good thing of the program is its learning-curve with time. It now includes health insurance for the poor, educational stipends for the poor , cash grants for the flood and terror victims. I can go on and on…….

Anonymous said...

Dont use 'our' for yourself. It seems as if a team of nuclear physicists is presenting the findings of resreach. Why cant you use 'I or me'

XYZ said...

@Ali Awesome: Thanks.

@Fraz: Yes, Lucman's claims about the age of the processor technology and Chinese manufacturing were silly, though Dual Core is still an older processor than the new i series. However, it does not take away from the substantive part of the charges.

PapaBare: See response to @Fraz above. By focusing only on a petty slip up by the anchor, when the real charges as detailed in the documents are separate and far more serious, and refusing to reconsider watching the programme even after knowing that the charges are more substantive than what Lucman may have said off the cuff out of ignorance, you betray more your own biases than anything else.

You also add: "Wonder [why] he is not doing programs on benazir income support which seems to be 100 times bigger scam than anything that has ever happened in Punjab." Quite aside from the details @saleem has provided in response, see, the difference between this particular programme and your allegations is that one is backed up with evidence. We have enough of allegations without evidence as it is in the media. And 'why is he not doing a programme on such and such' is hardly a defence for the PMLN if they've been caught.

@Sheharyar: Thanks for pointing that out. Will read and correct text as necessary.

@Anon144: Huh?

PapaBare said...

Well I am not a supporter of pmln's laptop distribution program. Perhaps it is a stupid idea and they are doing it only to buy votes and cheap popularity.
The thing is that Mubasher Luqman is biased and he is going out of his way to attack pmln and because of Luqman's past(I 'v been watching him since he used to appear on Business Plus) we know he is a bully and a blackmailer so my sympathies are naturally with pmln.

Anonymous said...

We are sometimes accused.....

Firstly, we do not brook....

Our role, as we see it on....

Who is 'we' and 'our'? Is it the royal we, or are there multiple authors of this article?

Saad Rehman said...

My favourite one was when he said "Is merti certificate ki haisyat kia hai? Yeh hai ... *rip*"

It could have been a nice touch, but it was too dramatic :p

Anyway, I wish there was more of this kind of journalism. I wish there were more Huzaida Rehman Qureshis. Very enlightening. And too bad, even after you clearly spell it out in your first paragraph people are still saying why he doesn't do a program on so and so.

Saad Rehman said...

I just Read all the comments again. Why is ML focusing on 'petty' issues. Wow! I mean, seriously? After this data too, you think these are petty issues? If you're spending more money to publicize giving away laptops than you're spending to buy laptops, money that otherwise would be spent on REAL education (which evidently, we need so much of!) - then there is something very wrong with you.

Also, what if ML IS biased. That doesn't make what he is saying wrong. In fact, that could only mean he can be a better anchor against PMLN. For a second, just imagine he wasn't there. Just listen the numbers. Numbers aren't biased.

Oh - And Nisar did add something. Iqtedar aur Hukumat saath sath nahin chalti. It is something to think about. It's new for me.

XYZ said...

@Anon301: No, but there are multiple contributors to this blog and the 'we' and 'our' refers to the blog. Can't help it if you're purposefully being dense.

Anonymous said...

Mubashir luqman caught with pants down.

Read this:

PapaBare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PapaBare said...

@Anon 4:56
This explains everything. The recent media campaign against pmln is basically to counter and divert attention from Gillani's conviction.
Once again these people are so keen to talk about petty issues related to pmln while in the federal government saala har banda hi chor hai
but they purposefully ignore it. But its freedom of expression? right? They can twist facts and even tell direct lies just to support their arguments and people will believe them and blog about it because its on national TV so it must be true. From now on Mubashar Luqman joins Jasmeen Manzoor and Maya Khan on my list of actors not to watch.

Anonymous said...

Mubashar Luqman
The guy who bought fake twitter followers just so he can feel 'big'

Farwa B Naqvi said...

It's just a trend in our society. Never try to correct what you've done wrong and if someone tries to point your mistake bathe him with blames of whatever he might have done wrong. We are such perfect people, it's always others at fault.

Anonymous said...

The point is that even if everything about the programme was above board and there was 0% corruption and even if the laptops were the latest supercomputers bought at rock bottom prices, the plan would be a ridiculously bad idea. The main reason why most "development" plans completely fail to help underdeveloped societies to develop is because they are very stupidly conceived. The laptop project was a case in point. The bizarre notion, usually spread by successful tech entrepreneurs that providing computers or laptops to people will somehow help soctiey develop is the latest in a long line of extremely dumb and wasteful ideas that just eat up precious development funds.

In fact as study after study shows providing laptops to kids does accomplishes absolutely nothing in terms of development aims. This Economist article and the study it links to are worth reading.


Kona Berwalla said...

The punjab government seems to going forward with suing Lucman. Should be interesting to see what comes out.

PapaBare said...

Nadeem Paracha and company are always were keen to pass sarcastic tweets and comments on anything that goes wrong with punjab government BUT close their eyes on wrong doings of Pee Pee Pee and bhai of Karachi. I haven't ever read one word from these guys against the scum that rule sindh. Although Karachi seems to be their home town.

saleem said...

To me, I think only two criticism on the Laptop Scheme are valid because I don't think that Shahbaz Shareef government may have earned a lot of money from distributing laptops. These two criticism are: 1. Should we spent scarce money on laptops? when there are schools in punjab which has no water, building, boundary walls and other basic facilities etc etc. and 2: and even if laptops are to be distributed, whether laptops should be distributed on merit base or need base? The first criticism is true in case of Danish School as well!

Addison said...

Interstaing Keep posting. I like the way you write.

Commercial Cleaning Companies

mikky99 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mikky99 said...

reading you blog was like as if i am enjoying and reading something interestingly, the way you have explained the things are awesome. i really love the way you have given on the blog.

Bourse forex