Incurable Indifference – When good governance kills workers’ welfare

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The project never materialised further than the paper it was produced on and the sense of achievement and joy that innocent Baloch people from Pishin felt met a premature death – unfortunately caused by ‘good governance’.

Residents of the small town, which was founded in 1883 under the British Raj, were happy four years ago when the Balochistan Workers Welfare Board decided that it would establish a medical college cum 500-bed hospital in the area. The board forwarded the conceptual paper for approval to the top federal bureaucrats sitting in the Workers Welfare Fund which was approved and authorities in Quetta were asked to prepare a PC-1 of the proposed project.

However, things soon took a turn for the worse.

On expiry of its tenure in July, the Federal Ministry of Human Resource Development was supposed to constitute a new governing body comprising two members each from all four provinces and the federal capital. The board is also equally represented by members from both the workers and employers’ side.

The culture of nepotism and disregard for merit and transparency ensured the nomination of ineligible persons as members of the board by the federal ministry in August. The nomination of only one member of the board was challenged in Islamabad High Court but later, during the course of the hearing, it appeared that the nominations of majority of members did not comply with legal criteria.

The buck-passing started as the baboos pleaded before the court that the names had been proposed by provincial boards and the federal ministry was “innocent”. The court’s questions regarding scrutiny and due-diligence got no answers from the ministry high-ups. Resultantly, the board was suspended until the final verdict.

For the last three months, an important organisation that is meant to look after the welfare of industrial workers, and has over Rs 20 billion in annual funds at its disposal, is virtually dysfunctional due to the suspended governing board, therefore no new schools, no hospitals and no workers’ housing schemes can get a legal go-ahead.

The tale of tragic indifference does not end here.

WWF is being run without a secretary, officially second in hierarchy after the chairman governing body, for last six months. Due to the vacant post, poor workers across the country are unable to receive marriage, death or scholarship grants.

“My child is facing imminent expulsion from OPF School as his fees have not been deposited by WWF for many months,” says Syed Ijaz, an employee of OGDCL.

“My organisation (OGDCL) contributes Rs 7 billion per annum to the Worker Welfare Fund, yet our children are being threatened with expulsion,” he said.

Syed Ijaz is not the only victim of the incurable indifference of government functionaries. Thousands of such fathers have been running from pillar to post but they find only ‘good governance’ everywhere mocking their poverty.

“Due to suspension of WWF governing body we are facing huge trouble … No new project could be moved and the future of Pishin medical college and hospital is uncertain,” laments Hamidul Karim, chairman Worker Welfare Board Balochistan.

An official of the ministry told Pakistan Today that the issue could be resolved if the federal ministry admits its mistake.

“They can simply admit their mistake vis-à-vis nomination of members before the court and pledge its reconstitution to make an important body functional… or at least they can tell the court that ineligible members will be replaced with eligible ones. However, every bureaucrat is saving his skin by putting the case on pending mode by employing various tactics.”

Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Federal Secretary Khizar Hayat said: “We don’t have any authority in nominations… we forwarded the proposed names to PM Secretariat which were received from provincial boards.” He further said in a very casual manner that the WWF secretary would be appointed soon.

The WWF officials, on the other hand, claim that the matters related to release of welfare grants could easily be addressed to end chronic plight of workers in ICT.

“In absence of WWF secretary, secretary ministry of HRD in capacity of Principal Accounting Office can dispose off the pending files. But he has simply refused to clear any backlog. He can also give charge of secretary to WWF DG to make things functional till the appointment of new secretary.”

Calling bureaucracy ‘incompetent’, Pakistan Mazdoor Mahaaz Secretary General Shaukat Ali Chaudhry, said that an important organisation is virtually dead due to nepotism. “Ultimately workers of the country are suffering… death and others kinds of welfare-grant cases of the year 2005 have not been cleared yet.”