Road show —Syed Mansoor Hussain

Having a local person in charge of local problems makes eminent sense. Unfortunately, whatever else the local government system may have accomplished, it certainly did not bring the government closer to the people

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is an oft-cited quote by Dr Samuel Johnson. Most people interested in such matters would suggest that the original quote is: “Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Such quibbles aside, my worry is the state of roads in Lahore, and why these roads are becoming more and more like roads in hell if not to and from. Good intentions are clearly to blame.

My father lives in a small housing society at the periphery of what I once knew as Lahore. It is a gated community and a rather nice one except for the occasional odiferous whiffs from the infamous ‘ganda nallah’ (open sewer) a little distance away.

A few months ago the powers that be ordered that all phone lines be placed underground. Brilliant idea, but after all the roads were dug up, the new lines put in and the roads repaved, we had no phone service.

Investigations yielded that the underground phone lines had been connected in the wrong direction! It then took a few more days and some more digging and repaving to reconnect them in the right direction. All was then well for a few more months until the powers that be decided to lay in new sewer and drainage pipes in preparation of the impending monsoon season.

Nobody wants a flood in front of their house so everybody thought it was a good idea. Much digging was done to the point that it became difficult to drive out of the driveway. And then suddenly hundreds of phone lines went dead! Evidently while digging for the sewerage and drainage pipes the diggers had dug through the aforementioned underground phone lines. No phone service for weeks.

Like most other Pakistanis I do not use the landline anymore but I do need it to log on to the Internet. So, I suffered, and my submissions for these pages got delayed to the point that I started getting stern messages from this newspaper’s little sister about ‘unacceptable’ delays. Fortunately, the phone lines were soon reconnected and all was well again.

When, finally, everything seemed to be proceeding at an acceptable pace, things came to a screeching halt. The diggers had finally dug through, into or across the gas lines. Major emergency! The next working day was then spent repairing the gas lines.

So, what is the problem? The problem is that the person who is digging up the road is entirely illiterate and is not skilled enough to care about anything other than what he is told to do. Somewhere behind all this, however, is a reasonably senior bureaucrat who is making the decisions. And I do wish that the decision-maker would make sure that the person tasked with digging up roads is at least told what to look out for.

The point then is that whoever sits on top of the planning heap is obviously not doing his or her job. Newly carpeted roads are dug up almost the day after they are paved or else in a few days collapse into the gutters underneath. This is such a frequent sight that it does not even register as something odd anymore.

Also, schematics of what is buried under which road are probably nonexistent and even if they do exist, nobody ever consults them before trying to dig a particular road up.

When the local government system was put in place, I felt that this would have a positive impact on community- or quality-of-life-related issues that are of great concern to most people. After all, having a local person in charge of local problems makes eminent sense. Unfortunately, whatever else the local government system may have accomplished, it certainly did not bring the government closer to the people.

The late Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives famously said: “All politics is local.”

I realise that in the backdrop of the dug up road in front of my house is the judicial crisis that seems to be devolving into a farce. Farce or not, I absolutely believe in the importance of an independent judiciary.

But the road in front of my house keeps distracting me from such matters of national and international importance. I have this recurrent nightmare that these sewerage pipes will not get placed until after the monsoon season is over. And that during the rainy season instead of just a mound of dirt I will have to navigate through a river of mud every day!

So, what next? Many years ago when Rudy Giuliani took over as the mayor of New York City (NYC), one of the first things he did was to tackle the ‘quality of life’ issues. In these pages on December 17, 2007 while comparing Pakistani politicians with those in the US, I compared Mr Shahbaz Sharif with Mayor Giuliani. Both have a reputation for being excellent administrators who did wonders for the city/province they once governed.

I have great hope that once Mr Shahbaz Sharif settles in, he will indeed do good things for the Punjab and particularly for Lahore. Quality-of-life issues are issues like those of open roads and clear footpaths, personal safety, reliable utilities, decent traffic without hordes of beggars at every intersection and access to decent medical care and good quality merchandise in the markets.

And if Mr Sharif can get just some of these things right, he has my vote for the next election. Of course I am being selfish! All politics is local after all.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, 30/6/2008

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