Use of force on nurses
Nurses hired for the coronavirus pandemic were subjected to cane-charge by the police in Karachi on Tuesday while they were demanding their withheld salaries and regularisation of their jobs. The police used disproportionate force against the protesting nurses which is evident from the fact that the cane-charge left one nurse with a fractured leg and several other protesters injured. This has once again shown the gap that exists between precept and practice.
We, including government officials and politicians, honour nurses and physicians in public in words, but when they demand their rights they are subjected to police violence. This is not the first time that protesting nurses have received harsh treatment at the hands of the police. A year or two ago too, protesting nurses were subjected to lathi-charge in the Sindh capital. In the present case, the protesters claimed that new nurses were being appointed but they were being sidetracked in complete disregard of the promise earlier made to them. The police used force to prevent these female protesters from reaching the CM House where they were going in the hope of redressal of their grievances. Were the barricades not sufficient to keep the protesters ‘under control? Under no circumstances can the use of force against nurses be unjustified. Now there are many methods to control crowds.
Fortunately, good sense soon prevailed in the official circles and representatives of nurses were allowed to meet the provincial health secretary. The official held out an assurance that the nurses’ issues would soon be resolved. Experts say there are only 75,000 nurses for a population of more than 200 million in Pakistan and one million more are needed. Nurses in the country are poorly paid, though they serve even at odd hours. Compelled by the discouraging circumstances nurses prefer to work abroad. Many trained nurses set up their own clinics, especially in rural areas where they are known as ‘doctor’. The shortage of nurses has left many without medical care, uncared for.
A recent Islamabad High Court (IHC) ruling has made it illegal for special assistants and advisers to the prime minister to participate in cabinet proceedings. The ruling establishes that while both ‘special’ categories are lawfully entitled to minister-level perks and privileges, they are not, legally speaking, formal members of the cabinet and have no executive authority. Although they can attend cabinet committee meetings “on special requests”, they are not entitled to chair or even be members of cabinet committees.
Interestingly, the 23-page judgment rejected the petitioner’s core demands regarding the large number of special advisers and assistants — 15 at last count — but did say, with a caveat, that the number should be capped at five. The most immediate and significant impact of the ruling will be on the finance ministry as Pakistan doesn’t have a finance minister at the moment. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has been filling the role as an adviser for over a year. Establishment, Commerce, Overseas Pakistanis, and NHRC are among the other ministries without full ministers. Some of them have been run by advisers since the government took power. It will be interesting to see what the government does as a workaround — will it give existing cabinet members additional charges as a stop-gap arrangement or reshuffle the entire cabinet while adding new members?
If not challenged, the judgment will go a long way in formalising how the country is run. Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy. In such a government, the cabinet is supposed to be chosen from the peoples’ representatives. Instead, we have often been governed more like a presidential republic, where cabinet members are selected by the ruler, with approval from parliament. Unfortunately, since it is much more difficult for parliament to block unelected cabinet appointments in a parliamentary system, the process becomes virtually dictatorial. Over the years, this has given cronies a rubber stamp route to the cabinet. Every government in recent memory has loaded up with unelected ‘special’ appointees. Without debating the quality of appointees, we can still say the PTI also over-relied on this method. Let us hope this judgment serves as a push in the right direction.
Proteas in Pakistan