More VIP headaches

The manner in which public money is spent by the Sharif government is shameful

Kamal Siddiqi September 18, 2016
The writer is the former editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets as @tribunian

In 2015, the Karachi division of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf decided to launch a campaign against VIP culture. The party said that it would organise seminars to make the public aware of the expenses incurred on this culture. It was a good idea but sadly it could not be followed through. Over the years, we have seen VIP culture continues to flourish in all parts of the country, despite the change of government. In one recent clip, we saw Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leading a motorcade of 50 cars.

The manner in which public money is spent by the Sharif government is shameful. While there is little money for basic services like health and education, our elected rulers continue to splurge on themselves.

Recently, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet approved the duty-free import of around three dozen armoured vehicles for VVIPs which flies in the face of a Supreme Court ruling that restrained the PM from taking such decisions without the entire cabinet’s. The finance ministry released Rs821.9 million for this.

The cars are being imported for the upcoming Saarc conference. One wonders what happened to the cars from the previous events.

Possibly the worst hit by VIP culture is Karachi. Quoting a newspaper report, PTI leader Ali Zaidi disclosed that 155 police mobile vans and 4,000 Sindh police personnel were performing VIP security duties and guarding residences even when these VIPs were travelling abroad.

This deployment should be seen in light of the PILDAT report that the total police strength of Karachi stands at 26,504 policemen – a ratio of one policeman to 850 residents. Lahore has a ratio of 1 to 335 and New Delhi of 1 to 290.

There was some hope when recently appointed Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah kicked off his first day in office by standing up against VIP culture as he ordered authorities to remove barriers and encroachments around the CM House in Karachi.

Murad Ali Shah promised to make Sindh “safe, secure, healthy, wealthy and literate” after he was elected as the new provincial chief minister. He promised to reduce the number of police cars assigned for the CM’s protocol. No such luck.

Recently, the Karachi traffic police towed away a vehicle of PTI leader Imran Ismail from outside the city’s passport office. A number of vehicles were lifted as the CM was to visit the area. Ismail’s case was highlighted by the media only because he was a local politician.

VIP culture thrives everywhere. Who can forget the traffic policeman suspended in Swat for penalising a PTI MNA’s father? Who will abide by the law when the law-makers break it so often? Even our interior minister leads long convoys as he passes through Karachi, bringing traffic to a halt and creating miles of traffic jams. He then goes on the floor of the house and claims that such actions don’t waste public funds.

So it comes as a surprise when the interior ministry informed the Sindh High Court this month that foolproof security was provided to VVIPs and VIPs, including the president, prime minister and judges, “in accordance with the guidelines contained in the Blue Book.” A division bench was hearing a petition against security protocols provided to VVIPs/VIPs filed by the Ansar Burney Trust.

The trust had taken officials to court following outcry against VIP culture after the death of an infant during Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s visit to Civil Hospital, Karachi.

Young Bisma, who was suffering from measles and a high fever, died on December 23, 2015 after her father was unable to enter the hospital due to security measures in place for Bilawal, who was inaugurating a trauma centre there.

The division bench directed the petitioner to file a counter-affidavit to the interior ministry’s report. Burney said motorcades of public functionaries, “routinely trample public sentiments.” High-speed movement of VIPs’ armed convoys, with their bomb-and-bullet proof cars and tinted windows, scares the masses and causes unnecessary inconvenience.

Articles 9, 10, 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution specifically guarantee rights for the security, liberty, dignity, freedom of movement and equality of all citizens. When we talk of democracy and protecting the Constitution, why can’t our lawmakers talk of this as well?

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2016.

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Parvez | 7 years ago | Reply @Ishrat salim: Under ideal circumstances.....Yes. But not in a situation where the rule-of-law and good governance etc are just slogans.
gp65 | 7 years ago | Reply The article seems to implythat civilians alone are responsible when talking about VIP culture. As the motorway incident tells s, civilian leaders do not have a monopoly on VIP culture.
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