The decision to open the doors of the Governor House in Punjab and Sindh and other such publicly owned buildings by the present government is a welcome move. But several people have criticised the decision and termed it an eye wash.
But for thousands of people who have never seen the inside gardens of the palatial houses from the colonial times, this is the chance of a lifetime. They get to see how those who have ruled in the past lived and what luxuries they availed. Also, the whole idea of having to spend some time in the gardens of these houses is always welcome.
It is better than an earlier proposal to completely close down these buildings, which would not have amounted to much given that the maintenance costs of such buildings is so high that it makes more sense to use them in one capacity or another if they are being maintained.
Governor House Punjab opens its door to public
More such government owned properties can be opened up so that people can identify better with the landmarks of their city. Till now, barely a fraction of the people who live in the city have actually gone anywhere near the Governor House, which over the years have been turned into impregnable fortresses. And for what purpose, one wonders.
Of course, more challenging would be where the government has committed to change the function of the building altogether. It is proposed, for example, that the Prime Minister House (not to be confused with the Prime Minister Secretariat) is to be made into a university. Again, a good idea but one that must be implemented wisely.
We can see how in the past the presidency in Rawalpindi, which was by president Zia for some of his time, was changed into the Fatima Jinnah University. This women-only university has over the years not only survived but thrived. Rawalpindi needed a women university at that time and the need was filled.
But now the criticism is that there are too many universities in Islamabad already and there is no need to add another one to it. Others argue that the PM house has been designed specifically to be what it is: to change it into a university does not make sense as it will not serve the purpose given the number of rooms it has and the size of some of those rooms. Renovations would mean additional funding.
And yet, where there is a will there is a way. Take for example the Mohatta Palace, initially the house of a businessman which was converted to be the foreign office and is now, after being shut and boarded for almost two decades, one of Karachi’s best museums. Mohatta also earns money from hosting events on its lawns but all this is usually quality exclusive and its done in a way that it does not damage the building in any way.
The PM House and other buildings can be converted into centres for excellence instead of universities. There are a number of areas in the sciences as well as humanities where Pakistan still has to make its mark when it comes to dedicated centres for research and academic excellence. What is more important is that such initiatives, once started, and if nurtured properly, eventually end up standing on their own feet. The idea should be good. There should be no malafide intent.
The sale of old cars and other items, once again as part of the drive to do away with the excessive holdings of the government, has received its share of attention in the press. The whole exercise was done poorly and with the bureaucrat in-charge not doing their homework. It was a poor show. The expected duty on some of the vehicles was higher than the purchase price of a similar model in the market. This was a classic bureaucratic trick that was done to ensure the exercise failed.
For such public interest initiatives to succeed, the politicians have to be on top of things. If left to others, they are bound to fail. No government official is comfortable in open auctions. There is no incentive there. While in real terms all these initiatives will have little effect on the overall expenditures of the government, it is important that they succeed. They show who is in charge.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2018.
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