Shahbaz Sharif sets a leadership benchmark

By Raza Rumi

While the pundits have rambled on the venality of the politician and the slothfulness of the bureaucracy, Pakistan’s largest province has witnessed the rise of a unique phenomenon in terms of provincial public management articulated by its second-time Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. In terms of efficacy of the public services and the administration of state machinery, the younger Sharif has set a leadership benchmark that daunts the political class as a whole. What are the points of departure here and how did this formidable image develop in less than a decade?

From 1997-99, arguably not a long stint in office, Shahbaz Sharif demonstrated the maximalist application and range of political will — from policy setting to micro-managerial interventions. It was a style that went down well with the populace, sent shivers down the imaginary backbones of the civil service and took the entrenched mafias and vested interests by huge shock. In the quest for an administrative style that could ‘deliver’, the younger Sharif was undaunted and bold. Exogenous factors admittedly were at play: a powerful government managed by the elder Sharif at the Centre, two thirds majority in the Punjab legislature tremendously helped in this quest for efficient public administration.
Therefore, a new style emerged that combined the popular versions of administrations run by Nawab of Kalabagh and Mustafa Khar, and added a predominantly modern and corporate ethos to it. It was the idea of public managers setting goals, targets and involving the private sector in a rule-based fashion. Other than the more visible infrastructural investments, the launching of public-private partnerships for urban public transport systems in Lahore and Rawalpindi, the launch of the private sector financed airport in Sialkot and restructuring of hospital management across the province were reflective of a ground-breaking vision of public administration.
Critics, of course, had a few major points to articulate. Foremost, this was a personalised style of governance and institutions lagged behind the personal dynamism of Shahbaz Sharif. In particular, the arrests and stern treatment meted out to the defaulting civil servants created waves of resentment within the bureaucracy and of course the sustainability of reform was faced with a question mark. In some measure the critics were right as the reform movement waned after the coup of 1999 and several of the innovations were either undone or diluted to render them ineffective. However, the PML-Q could not give up the style of management and therefore we saw Sharif’s successor maladroitly attempting to imitate the ‘new’ Sharifesque style of public management.
Such was the legacy of three years in office.
The central tenet of the Shahbaz Sharif style was a quick appreciation of history and how the district team mattered in delivering state services and ensuring a perception of responsiveness. The mansabdars and their successors, the deputy commissioners, were made to work at the local level with relative autonomy from the local and the provincial politician. The bargain was that this kind of unprecedented backing from the Chief Minister and space for action was to result in the achievement of provincial policy goals. Therefore, the health facilities for the first time were inspected duly and regularly by the officials of the Deputy Commissioner’s office, development work was implemented under such scrutiny to offset the predominance of the contractors’ mafia.
The results were stellar for as long as the Sharifs governments lasted.
Critics were also vocal that development was Lahore-centric with spillovers into parts of the northern and central Punjab. There was some merit in this assertion though not entirely true. Even in far-flung areas such as Dera Ghazi Khan and elsewhere the provincial government made immense headway and improved the overall administration as well as services.
However, it was Lahore that saw the transformation of its urban infrastructure, sound maintenance of works and efficacious delivery of public services. The widening of roads that took place through the Army’s construction subsidiary was completed in record time and the quality was matchless or at least superior to much of what had been constructed earlier. The elite-owned petrol pumps built without proper layouts and regulations were demolished overnight and the tricky business of removing encroachments was handled with a rare degree of fairness. The State, after a long time, was seen as applying and establishing its writ; and the urban interest groups were given a rude shock by the general even-handedness in application of law.
The financing of infrastructure across the province was also innovative: a sizeable portion of funds for development were raised through creative re-engineering and play with the encroached public assets that had little or no returns. There was some reaction to this zeal of generating funds such as the local uprising in Murree in 1998 when the government offices and property were set ablaze. However, the project continued until a tourism tax was imposed in 1999 and that continues to save the Murree’s municipal coffers from bankruptcy.
In the post-Bhutto Pakistan, populism cannot remain confined to interacting with the dreams of poor and a mere articulation of vision for change. This was an unwitting lesson imbibed by Shahbaz Sharif who ventured to showcase results and in certain cases change the embedded administrative practices. Air conditioned buses for urban commuters therefore became a landmark in a city that had largely focused on private cars and their easy facilitation.
The agenda, image and substance of the Shahbaz Sharif phenomenon holds a resonance with the fast urbanising districts of the central and northern Punjab that are not only PML-N’s base, but also the seat of current turbulence in the wake of lawyers’ movement. These districts are clamouring for urban public services and a state that gets down to civic improvement rather than overspend on martial goals. In new urban areas — from Attock to Okara — where safe drinking water is extinct, sanitation systems have collapsed, security is purchased from the private agencies, quality health and education service come with a price tag, urban unrest is logical.
This is why Shahbaz Sharif has been cheered and welcomed back by a population at the end of its patience with the old order. However, this public angst poses even a bigger challenge since a tumultuous decade has made the task of public administration even more daunting. The more pressing issue is that the Sharif phenomenon cannot just be a personal style steeped in the Mughal virtues of ruling. It has to get down to the messy institutional reform business. Such an agenda would require a headway towards civil service reform, realignment of local government system and of course instituting internal accountability mechanisms that are not hostage to the Chief Minister taking notice of everything that goes wrong in the Province. The best service that Sharif can do for the Punjab and the country is to ensure that agencies and departments undertake their regular business and that there are systemic safeguards to weed out those who cannot or are not inclined to deliver.

10 responses to “Shahbaz Sharif sets a leadership benchmark

  1. Very well written Raza. I have roots and family in Lahore. You have hit the nail on the head with the emphasis on institutions and delivery.

  2. Very well Raza, we need Shahbaz’s spirit in our political administrator in other provinces as well. In Frontier, Gen. Fazl Haq was a good administrator, but no one dared to follow him.

  3. mm!! awesome article.. being a business administration student, i keenly observe the pakistani politician managerial and human resources skills. I am afraid to say i didn’t find anyone having seen anyone having guts and nuts except this guy name, Mian Shahbaz Sharif. P E tried to copy this guys pathetically and failed miserably. All i can say is punjab ( and maybe Pakistan 😉 ) really needs this tough guy.

  4. It will be good if he performs such stunts in cities other than Lahore. He hardly ever cared for them.

  5. America got democracy after such a longer period from 1776 till 2008 where they acually clam that they dont diffrinciate btw black and white, so we have just seen 60 years we have yet to see many hardships and democracy wont appear unless if any individual won’t come out ans serve, because a layman know better about other layman. In this regard i appriciate Shahbaz Sharif that whatever he’s doin is down to earth task. And yes, we need such type of man to come forward and serve the nation, infact that was the wish of motarma Bainazir Bhutto.

    Good luck


  6. Dear Mian Sahib, As you know the people of Bhakkar district have elected you to the Punjab assembly. Although a goup of local leaders sponcer the occassion but basically the people of Bhakkar elected you and dream of a better Bhakkar. Please consider to upgrade Bhakkar as adivisional head quarter to provide better facilities in the area. Thanking you, Khwaja Aftab Ali, Florida, USA

  7. Dear Mian Sahib, As you know the people of Bhakkar district have elected you to the Punjab assembly. Although a goup of local leaders sponcer the occassion but basically the people of Bhakkar elected you and dream of a better Bhakkar. Please consider to upgrade Bhakkar as a divisional head quarter by appointing a commissioner to provide better governance facilities in the area. Thanking you, Khwaja Aftab Ali, Florida, USA

  8. Khwaja Aftab Ali, Florida, USA

    Who says there is no feudal in Pakistan. Rural Pakistan is control by the feudals, even in urban areas one can see the people who work hard and other who exploit the situation and make money in the name of Muslim saints or family lands. Our ruling class of so called politicians is from feudals and then industrialist follow them for power in authoritarian society. Law making body-the Majlish Shora, parliament -the senate , national assembly, provincial assembly and district council , every where the members are feudal, indusrialists, drug barons and /or Rtd. corrupt police officers with few Rtd, army officers as well. The writer of the this article and a leading scholar Dr. Aisha Siddiqa is also from feudal class with extra ordinary intelligence. I agree with some people that one should do some thing instead of suggestions. I have done some thing by leaving my home land as it’s hopeless there; unless there is rule of law not the law of ruler and we should follow the rule accordingly. Very simple law of inheritance can change our country’s future. What ever law we follow, Islamic or British- Muslim personal law, the property should be divided accordingly after the death of a person in a reasonable time but what happen in our country- this is the basic problem. If division of property is done by the law, there will be no feudal and if there is no feudal: the country will flourish. See rest of the world specially the developed world where majority people from under developed countries want to come. All the best for the rest of the people all over the world. KHWAJA AFTAB ALI, Advocate & I.P. Attorney in Pakistan, presently living in Florida, USA



    Dear Sir,

    Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Federal Minister for Water & Power should be sacked forthwith due to following facts:-

    He is a falsifier. He promised before the nation that if load-shedding is not eliminated by 31st December 2009, he will resign, then he said that load-shedding will be minimized by 31st March 2010 and again he said that by 15th of April 2010 people will get relief in load-shedding. However, facts are converse to it; neither he resigned from his portfolio nor load-shedding has been reduced. Rather public is facing massive and un-scheduled load-shedding for 18 to 20 hours.

    Due to his negligence Pakistan has suffered colossal revenue loss of billions of rupees. He does not deserve to remain as Minister for Water & Power because he has vividly been incapable of handling the power crises. Iran offered Pakistan supply of 2200 MW electricity in 2008 at 1/3 of prevalent price in Pakistan out of which only 25 MW was obtained. Why he has remained mum on this offer; reason is now an open secret to all of us.

    Inspite of the fact that power rental plants have been regarded as unviable by ADB as well as Shoukat Tarin, Ex-Finance Minister of Pakistan, he is still preferring installation of PRP due to involvement of corruption / commission.

    Thousands of factories have been closed due to power outage.

    Millions of workers has been made jobless.

    He has been source of mental torture for the entire nation.

    With Profound regards,

    Liaqat Mehmood Baig
    Advocate High Court

  10. Dear, Sir . My mother is ill sir i am with my mother going to miun hospital befor 45 days,pleas sir this time in no treatment one time please sir give you notes ,Thank you and oblige

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