off record
Shaukat Ali Jawaid

Beggars in Three
Piece Suits?

Prof. Malik H. Mubbashar Prof. of Psychiatry at Institute of Psychiatry, Rawalpindi General Hospital now named as Benazir Bhutto Hospital which is affiliated with Rawalpindi Medical College had organized a meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Pakistan at Rawalpindi in the 80s. It was very well attended by eminent psychiatrists from many countries including Pakistani Psychiatrists settled in North America and Europe.

Late Prof.MH. Mubbashar who also served as Vice Chancellor of University of Health Sciences during his later professional career, was a good organizer, had finalized an interesting scientific programme in addition to excellent social functions including conference dinner with lavish arrangements. All the guests were also presented very expensive gifts on numerous occasions besides mementoes. He and his other colleagues of course had lot of worries including the notification issued by the government that all government servants must report back to their stations and heads of the institutions were instructed to ensure that they all cast their votes in the Referendum which military dictator General Ziaul Haque had planned but fortunately it was a day after the last day of the conference. Participants from all over Pakistan were very concerned and eager to return even if they have to cut short their participation in the conference to save themselves from the unpleasant consequences if they fail to vote in the “Referendum”.

The foreign guests which included a number of former Presidents of the Royal College of Psychiatrists as well were immensely impressed with the lavish arrangements and expensive gifts which were presented to them. At times we as hosts go out of the way to please our guests but little do we realize as to what they might be feeling in the real sense. I got a hint of it when a young British Psychiatrists knowing that I was a medical journalist, asked me “ Mr. Jawaid, looking at the lavish hospitality and conference arrangements I think Pakistan is a very rich country. You don’t need any financial help or assistance. In fact you can help Britain as we can never imagine and afford such lavish arrangements at the conferences.” Then he kept silent for a while and again said, “It is better you Pakistanis learn to live within your means. On one hand you spend and waste so much resources on such functions but at the same time your Finance Ministers in three piece suits tour the world financial capitals with a begging bowl in their hand asking for Aid.“ I felt very much embarrassed but the young British Psychiatrists was right. We need to learn to live within our means. It was in 80s but have we learnt any lesson since then, not at all. We keep on wasting billions of rupees at lunches and dinners at five star hotels in the name of medical conferences most of which eventually turn out to be mere “social get-to gathers of healthcare professionals with their families” though there are a few exceptions or at times the scientific programme is very little with no justification for such huge expenditures. Why cannot we give up the practice of even conference bags, shields and gifts being presented to everyone just to name a few of the avoidable expenditures? If this was not enough at times some organizers also indulge in the habit of awarding Life Time Achievement Awards to all the friends and well-wishers which also include themselves, though no one knows if they have any academic accomplishments at all. What is more depressing and frustrating is the fact that it is all paid for by the poor patients since it is all sponsored by the pharma trade and industry which pass it on to the patients in the shape of high cost of investigations services and drugs.

I remember having attended a Conference Banquet at a British Academic Conference in Glasgow in late 80s and the Banquet Ticket cost was Fifty pounds. The dinner was not mandatory or compulsory. If someone wanted to skip, they could. All the participants purchased the ticket and arrangements for the sitting dinner was made by reservation with name of the participants at different tables. Tickets were checked by the organizers at the gate and they were guided to their respective table.

In yet another conference organized by the Research Group of Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan consultants in Birmingham, no spouses or children were allowed. I could see two Pakistani delegates who had come with their families, asked their spouses and children to go and have dinner at the nearby McDonald Restaurant because organizers had made it clear beforehand that only registered delegates, no spouses or children will be permitted.

In Pakistan too Shaukat Khanum Hospital & Research Center though organizes its symposiums at Five Star Hotels but no free lunch or Tea, Coffee is made available. All this is available at the venue site at subsidized cost to suit everyone’s pocket. Some can just be content with a Burger or light snacks and those who wish to have full lunch can also buy that. More recently, last week, it was fascinating to learn that King Edward Medical University had asked the Faculty members to pay Rs. Two thousand each for the symposium dinner so that the guests can also be accommodated within the same budget for the dinner which was hosted at the KEMU Campus. Congratulations to the VC KEMU and his team.

Having failed to learn any lesson all these years and in an effort to show off organizers of medical conferences in Pakistan have never bothered to think on these lines. Either their conscience is dead or sleeping. They have never thought of as to who eventually pays for all this. One cannot do anything in case of those whose conscience is dead but one can certainly try to shake up those whose conscience is sleeping. May be they wake up. There is urgent need to work on the conscience of healthcare professionals in Pakistan in general and faculty members and office bearers of professional specialty organizations in particular. The criminal silence of government and the regulatory bodies who are supposed to check all these unethical practices also needs to be condemned.

Each one of us not the present or the previous governments alone are responsible for the economic mess which has been created in Pakistan. The present government is struggling to please the IMF bosses to release the remaining installment of the agreed loan and the terms and conditions of loan given by our friends Saudi Arabia are so harsh that we all must be ashamed. We keep on maintaining an Army of Ministers, Ministers of State, Advisors, and Special Assistants at the federal as well as provincial level. We do not see any reduction in their expenditures. The present government has taken loans more than the previous all governments in just three years and we also do not see any mega project being started. The government often calls upon the people to just tighten their belts a little bit, don’t worry and the situation will improve but the ruling elite itself refuses to even wear a belt what to talk of tightening it. Situation has come to a stage where our financial policies are controlled by the IMF and its employees and commerce policies are controlled by the World Bank and its employees. We cannot afford an independent foreign policy as well. We have lost our sovereignty in the real sense. Since we as a Nation have never learnt any lesson from our past mistakes and keep on making the same mistakes again and again, one does not see any light at the end of the tunnel. Hence, even worst situation may be seen in the days to come. Oh God help this Nation find the right path.

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