18 April 2012

The Politics of laptops

Chief Minister (CM) of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif, announced to give 100,000 Laptops to the deserving students all over Punjab, under Youth Development Program. This announcement stirred a wave of happiness amongst all those students who could not afford to buy Laptops. Just a few months after the announcement, the distribution of Laptops started. Up till now, over 50% of these laptops have been distributed to the students in different districts of Punjab. Total number of laptops to be given is increased to 110,000. The problem with this entire program is that CM is using the laptop distribution ceremonies to project his political party PML-N at the cost of taxpayer’s money. Moreover, Transparency International, Global corruption watchdog, has announced in a statement that there has been a corruption of an unprecedented 1.7 Billion Rupees in this scheme.

No one can criticize giving free laptops to under privileged students but the politics involved in it attracts criticism. CM Shehbaz Sharif or his elder Brother, PML-N chief Nawaz Sahrif preside over the ceremonies in which Laptops are distributed across Punjab. These ceremonies held in universities present a picture of PML-N political gathering. Both Sharifs and other leaders of PML-N make speeches against PPP and in support of their party. These ceremonies are being used as a platform to paint a good picture of PML-N and criticize PPP and its chief Asif Ali Zardari. Other political parties carry out political gatherings in Open grounds, financed out of their own pockets and PML-N does all political activities in Educational institutes using the resources of Punjab Government.

The main reason behind this scheme was to attain the political support of youth who all seemed to staunchly support PML-N’s arch rival Imran Khan. Shehbaz Sharif thinks that by giving laptops his party can deprive Imran Khan of Support of Youth, unfortunately for them that’s not going to happen. No one will change his political philosophy and ideology after getting his hands on Laptop received through this scheme. After the Laptop distribution ceremony in Punjab University, students told the correspondents of TV channels that “despite receiving these laptops from PML-n government, we will still support Imran Khan”. In fact, these laptops will most probably be used by students to support Imran Khan on Social networking website such as Twitter and Facebook.

Just like Sasat-Roti (Cheap Bread) scheme of Punjab Government this scheme is also not free from corruption. Now-a-days, Pakistan is synonymous with corruption, thanks to PPP government in Islamabad. Punjab government is also not lagging behind from PPP in corruption. Therefore, Corruption in this Laptop scheme was bound to happen. Transparency International has indicated in one of their statements that by not following Public Procurement rules, purchase of Laptops has resulted in a loss of over 1.7 Billion Rupees to National Exchequer.

According to Business Recorder:

Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) has brought to the notice of Planning & Development Department, Government of Punjab allegations of violation of Punjab Procurement Rules, (PPR) 2009 in the procurement of 110,000 laptops by the Punjab Government, incurring a loss of at least Rs 1.7 billion

Punjab government did not follow the procurement rules and did not buy from the lowest bidder which resulted in this huge loss of Taxpayer’s money. Usually in such cases government officials receive huge kickbacks from the companies which are not the lowest bidders and award such contracts to them. This case hints towards a similar scam involving kickbacks.

Punjab government was quick to deny the allegations of corruption. Pervez Rashid, Spokesman of Punjab Government, clarified that the company was not selected due to the rate of bid but the type of Laptops that it supplied, which matched the specific requirements as required for this scheme. He further stated that cost of one laptop is 31000 and with warranty costs and delivery charges it reaches 37000 per piece. Punjab government also provided certain documents to Transparency International to prove transparency in this deal. They have also ordered to investigate whether any Laptop has been given to a person who doesn’t fulfil the criteria. In spite of all these desperate efforts, the stain of corruption can’t be washed from this scheme and until an independent and thorough investigation is not conducted in this matter, this will continue to be labeled as a corrupt scheme.

This scheme of free laptops is nothing more than a political stunt. It’s the waste of taxpayer’s money and it involves huge amount of corruption. All these features make this scheme a failure. By giving laptops to students or giving petty amount of cash to poor families through Benazir Income Support System will not solve any problem. Both Federal and Punjab governments should economically enable the citizens so that they can buy laptops from their own pockets. The focus should be on getting rid of persisting economic crisis and making the living standards of citizens better, rather than wasting scarce resources of government for gaining political mileage. This politics of Laptops is nothing more than an act of political immaturity hidden behind the smokescreen of helping the under privileged students.

A version of this article was Published on Dunya News Blog

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