Will Mr Gilani spare a thought to this?
By Saeed Minhas
ISLAMABAD: A federal minister of state from Kalabagh area walks into the offices of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and asks its officials to arrange some relief items for distribution in his area because he has already arranged media coverage for this and his people are waiting for this informally-held staged ceremony in his constituency.
A few hours later, the phone rings and the NDMA officers, who are placed within the PM Secretariat, are told to arrange relief goods to fill three C-130 planes because the prime minister wishes to visit his native town, Multan.
The list goes on and on as federal ministers, ministers of state, some important personalities without portfolios and even unelected and unofficial advisers and coordinators are pulling these and many other government organisations somehow associated with the relief activities, for their political gains.
Down the line, if you visit the offices of federal ministers in Islamabad, their tired staff is more worried about getting press releases and pictures out to the media than knowing what is actually being done on the ground for the suffering masses. But the agony does not stop here. It gets a new proportion when you see that how this unprecedented natural disaster is managed without any focal point and centralised control room.
For nomenclature’s sake, as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also emphasised on several occasions that the NDMA is acting as a focal point, all the donor-gifted terminology like mapping the disaster, focal person and the DNA are in place but most of the ‘babus’ and even ex-Khakis are coming across these terms for the first time in their life, let alone understand and implement them in any way.
Fine, even if we suppose for a minute that the NDMA is supposed to act as a focal point in this whole exercise, the fact remains that first it has become an organisation to manage the protocol requests, stage relief events, and divert foreign donated goods to politically assessed destinations not independently judged genuine places.
Secondly, it is churning out data, which many donors, including foreign embassies and even executing NGOs, such as many UN agencies, do not correspond to. Thirdly, we are yet to see any standard operating procedures (SOP) or methodologically laid down procedures to collect reliable data from district officers/Patwaris who know like back of their hand which area is under cultivation, how many roads run through their area and how many state structures like schools, colleges, and hospitals exist there. The result is that we are yet to see realistic information on damage to state infrastructure, standing crops of sugarcane, rice and cotton (all export-oriented items).
When you try to argue with any of the NDMA officials, they all present the data about KP but when attention is drawn towards the need for similar data from Punjab where eight million are affected, Sindh where close to a million people became victim to the rage of Indus River, Balochistan, AJK or even Gilgit-Baltistan, a standard answer is that we are trying to collect as much as we can.
Reality of the matter is that the NDMA does not even have a provincial authority in Punjab, where the Sharifs opposed the need to have one because of some disagreements with the NDMA bosses. The Sharifs believed in running their own show and the result was that as Shahbaz Sharif was standing in the floodwater, just like all other high profile visitors, he was restricting the entire administration to protocol duties.
All such visits not only fail to achieve anything but political mileage, commented a serving DC from southern Punjab. He said every minister, chief minister or even the prime minister can do much more by sitting in their offices and coordinating the efforts from there rather than running around for photo-ops.
Upon investigations, we found out that this disaster-mapping of KP was not done by NDMA or Relief commissioners or even by Civil Defence or National Volunteers’ Movement but was the handy-work of all those community organisations working with the direct financial aid of organisations like the USAID, the DIFD, JICA, CIDA, or a host of other UN organisations.
Another unfortunate reality is that donors, admitted by many in private conversations, have a big question of working with the government agencies fearing not only bureaucratic red-tapeism but also mischief.
However, the least we expect from our state elephants is to know that who is doing what and in which area. Initial leaning of all the donors towards KP may be enough to prove this point because it was not until media started making a hue and cry for relief in the other three provinces that anyone was even sending sorties (choppers), except for the army and air force jawans, to any other part of the country.
With the PM’s Flood Relief Fund, the Army Flood Relief Fund, the UNHCR public appeal, the Baitul Maal Fund, the National Assembly Speaker Fund and the NDMA Fund, scores of social and religious (including banned) organisations are out to collect all sorts of donations, and last but not the least our Finance Ministry’s taxation formula, we are yet to see any comprehensive plan as to how these rescue and relief funds will be channeled?
Will everyone use them on their own or will we ever get a social or accounts audit of them? Well, so far Gen Nadeem and his bosses are yet to tell us about the ERRA, where according to them 95 percent work is completed but upon visiting the earthquake-hit areas, you just cannot escape the mountains of corruption stories thrown at you by the survivors. Will the PM spare some thought to these queries or will he just keep following the floodwaters, the extra taxation and the hiking of the tariffs to meet the inefficiencies of our babus?