Differences among political parties and successive governments have left the “Mother, Child Hospital Project”, located at Asghar Mall Road near City Marriage Hall, in a limbo and is shows official indifference towards public-welfare projects.
The construction of the hospital, officially named the Federal Hospital for Women and Children, has yet to complete even though work on the project started in 2005, with the authorities expressing ignorance regarding it.
Muhammad Ali Qureshi, a prayer leader of a nearby mosque and resident of the area, said the project could have benefited a number of people had it taken off on time.
He told The Express Tribune the site was for a tuberculosis (TB) hospital but the federal government decided to build a hospital for mothers and children.
Qureshi said Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid got approval for the project from the government at the time. The contract was given to Ashir Construction Company in July 2005, which started construction in the same month, he stated.
Qureshi added that an amount of Rs4 billion was earmarked by the federal government for the project and Shaukat Aziz, then prime minister, inaugurated it. He said after sometime, work on the project stopped when the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came into power at the federal level. They did not release funds for the project during their tenure, Qureshi informed.
He said Haji Pervaiz Khan and Malik Shakeel Awan, who belong to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), were elected from the same constituency but they too never paid any attention to the project. They visited the facility but did not take any step despite promises with the people of the area, and when Rashid again got elected from the locality, no progress was made over the project, Qureshi lamented.
Technical manager of the project, Chaudhry Safdar Hussain, expressed concern over the continued neglect by the government. He said the project was the initiative of the federal government with an aim to create a unique facility for mothers and children.
Hussain said the government acquired 120 kanals for the purpose and started construction, adding that almost 75 per cent work on the 400-bed hospital had been completed for an amount of almost Rs3 billion. But now, the government has stopped providing funds for it, said Hussain. He claimed the government would now have to spend extra money as prices of construction material have gone up.
Regretting that political rivalries were affecting a much-need healthcare project in the city, Hussain said the facility could save lives of a high number of children and mothers if it is completed. “There should be no involvement of politics in projects of public importance,” he said.
Hussain informed that the construction company repeatedly asked the government to terminate the contract but the government was neither terminating it nor providing any funds.
He remarked that the project was of utmost significance as government-run hospitals were unable to tend to an increasing number of mothers and babies in need of attention due to shortage of beds and other facilities.
Former PML-N MNA from the constituency, Malik Shakeel Awan, while talking to The Express Tribune, put the blame on Sheikh Rashid and the PPP for the project’s incompletion. He stated that after the 18th Amendment, the federal government handed over the lists of health institutes of the provinces to the Punjab government. But the PPP government in the centre deliberately did not hand over the hospital to the PML-N government in Punjab as credit for it would go to the provincial government, despite the allocation of Rs500 million for the project by the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Awan claimed.
He said Rashid was equally involved in the conspiracy as he was aware the PML-N would complete the project and thus win public votes. He said now when health affairs have shifted to the provinces, the federal government did not have enough funds to initiate the project again.
Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) Spokesperson Rafiq Tahir told The Express Tribune the government had not earmarked any funds or amount for the project in the Public Sector Development Programme of this year. He said Health Deputy Director General Dr Mehboob Agha was supervising the project and “would be able to give more information about it”.
When approached, Dr Agha said he did not have any idea about the project and refused to discuss the matter any further.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2014.