In conversation with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar Image Credit: Supplied

It has been more than three years of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s government in Punjab, and many questions arise every day. On December 8, 2021, I met Chief Minister of Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar to ask him some of the questions the countless people of Punjab have for him.

Mehr Tarar: Chief Minister, thank you for talking to me.

Perception versus reality, what is your government’s strategy to improve its communication with the public in the context of its three-year work?

Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar: Firstly, I’d like to thank Gulf News for the opportunity to share our work with the Pakistani diaspora in the UAE and elsewhere.

Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar [L] with Mehr Tarar [R]

In Pakistan, unfortunately, partial or complete fabrications are dispersed in the garb of news through social media and other platforms. Authentication of news and information is not just part of our social values, it is also something our religion lays great emphasis on.

The reality is that every sector in Punjab is making progress with people-focused and people beneficial development work. Recently, a district development package worth Rs 360 billion has been implemented, with 35 percent of the budget ringfenced for south Punjab. Our development budget—the biggest of its kind in Punjab’s history–including ADP and PSDP, is approximately 725 billion rupees. The results of our development work are visible, continuous.

In the process of helping people through various good governance measures, aspects of transparency and austerity are of great importance to the PTI government. Various governmental reforms are aimed at resolving people’s problems at their doorsteps. Limitations of time and space prevent me from giving details of all our work but let me just add that PTI government’s three-year performance is ahead of that of previous governments’ three-year work.

Director General Public Relations Punjab Rubina Zahid; SACM on Information and Special Initiatives and Spokesperson Govt of Punjab Hassan Khawar, CM Buzdar, Mehr Tarar, and Secretary Information Govt of Punjab Raja Jehangir Anwa

Dengue wreaked havoc in Punjab with hospitals swamped with critically ill patients. Is your government taking any long-term steps for eradication of dengue as opposed to firefighting every winter?

Surveillance of dengue larva was conducted in a home-to-home drive along with several other measures to fight the disease. Government hospitals were equipped with medicines and other essential items, and specially allocated wards for dengue patients had medical staff that was committed to providing them the best treatment. I believe public cooperation is imperative to deal with dengue. Tall claims were made in the past about the eradication of dengue, but it has resurfaced. Our government is fully committed to keep the situation under control and eliminate dengue once and for all.

Smog is a perennial problem for Punjab. What are the steps being taken for reducing smog?

Multiple factors exacerbate the issue of smog. Almost all brick kilns in Punjab have been shifted to zigzag technology. Burning of [crop] stubbles is prohibited. Strict action is being taken against smoke-emitting vehicles. Our government has also decided to halve the use of official vehicles. The status of smog is reviewed daily, and various proposals are taken into consideration to adopt the best measures to diminish the very harmful effects of smog.

Inflation is killing our underprivileged and destroying our lower and middle classes. Beyond the much-repeated refrain of a global increase in prices of commodities, there are clearly largescale issues of hoarding and other corrupt practices that lead to an acute artificial shortage or/and inflated prices of essential commodities. How is the Punjab government fighting the ills of corruption and inflation?

Corruption at any level or in any form is unacceptable, and strict legal action is taken whenever any corruption-related incident is brought to our attention. If a dishonest act is behind a certain price hike, let me assure you that our government would not show any leniency to the individuals or groups responsible for that.

Action against hoarders is happening every day; price control magistrates are not only registering cases against hoarders and illegal profiteers but are also fining and arresting them. The purpose is not to punish any trader but to provide relief to the masses, and every possible step is taken to make that happen.

Sugar and flour are available at controlled rates in Punjab, and availability of other essential items at fixed rates is also being ensured. Internationally and regionally, inflation is a huge issue, but that will not deter us from continuing our efforts to control inflation in Punjab.

Not a minute goes by when I’m not concerned about the wellbeing of every resident of Punjab, and in particular of the large segment of our province that survives on very little. In my capacity as the Chief Minister of Punjab, I’m never oblivious to people’s issues, and I constantly try to find solutions to bring relief to the people.

One of PTI's most important electoral agendas was police reforms. Amidst the almost non-existent work to implement bureaucratic reforms, the most visible development is constancy of transfers—seven IGPs and five chief secretaries in less than three years. How do you expect bureaucracy to have a stellar performance without the guarantee of the completion of even one posting?

Postings and transfers of officers are prerogatives of the chief executive. If an officer fails to deliver according to public expectations, I don’t think their transfer is an unusual phenomenon. As far as the bureaucracy is concerned, I say with confidence that the freedom of performance currently available to officials at every level in Punjab was unimaginable in the past.

We have not only ensured respect and honour to the bureaucracy but also provided justified financial benefits for performing their duties with dedication. The PTI-led government has introduced institutional reforms to improve the work conditions for the police to improve their service to the public. Such steps were simply inconceivable not so long ago. We have provided vehicles, constructed new police stations, and made thousands of new recruitments to overcome staff shortage. Frozen allowances have been restored.

If I may add, I make unannounced visits to different police stations and jails to have an unvarnished picture, and issue on-the-spot instructions for different issues that jail authorities and/or inmates share with me.