While the number of deaths caused by the medicines prescribed at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) is rising, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, during a press conference has finally revealed the root cause of these fatalities as the most unusual occurrence. Indeed, this has raised questions about the state of affairs in the public and private sector management in Pakistan, a discipline more fashionably coined as public governance and corporate governance.

Initially, the suspected drugs were sent for testing at the Central and Provincial Drug Testing Laboratories, but were cleared as being of standard quality and fit for prescription to the patients. However, the medicines had been simultaneously sent to the London School of Pharmacy, which revealed that the Isotab tablets were contaminated with an anti-malarial chemical, Pyrimethamine, resulting in the death of more than 100 people. Following the release of this report on the media, a subsequent report was issued by the Central Drug Testing Laboratory (CDTL) that it had also discovered that the Isotab tablets were contaminated. This speaks volumes about the reliability of our laboratories/testing systems.

More so, the CM Punjab suspended some health and administrative officials of the PIC and the health secretariat, including the Health Secretary, besides ordering a judicial inquiry of the incidence. The Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, ordered the arrests of some senior medical professionals of the hospital. The industrialists in the pharmaceutical industry protested against any finger being pointing in their direction for potential negligence. They said that all quality and regulatory standards were being fulfilled. The Prime Minister stated that the provincial government is the main hurdle in the establishment of a Drug Regulatory Authority, while the Chief Justice has taken suo motu notice of the situation.

From the sequence of events, it seems that none of the concerned parties/high officials are prepared to take responsibility for the tragic incident. Apparently, the rules and regulations and the supporting infrastructure of information technology and information management, that is a baseline of both the public and the private sector, are designed to support the bureaucracy, the ruling elite, and the money minting and tax evading traders and manufacturers.

It is a tragedy that despite living in an Islamic country, we have failed to live up to the basic teachings and values of our religion. All the vices that our beloved Prophet’s teachings guide us to keep away from are practiced, as a routine matter in our day-to-day living. Telling the truth, not resorting to lies, being honest and fair in our dealings with others, and so forth are the basic teachings that should be an integral part of our lives. But what is happening in this country is quite to the contrary.

As a matter of fact, it is hard to find pure milk not diluted with water or fortified with hazardous chemicals, medicines free of contaminated toxic substances, food items free of additives such as stones to raise the bulk to measure less of the original item etc. Unfortunately, no check and balances are in place, despite the existence of regulatory authorities for almost every sector. Similar is the case with industry standards: Either they are flawed or do not exist. Also, there is no effective mechanism of accountability to pinpoint responsibility for negligence and punish the culprits.       

Against this backdrop, the key problem in all our institutions, both public and private, is that we as a nation have failed to understand the importance of Information Technology Management. Building skyscraper IT parks to lease office space, or mere distribution of a hundred thousand or more laptops to students, will not make us an Information Technology enlightened nation. What surety is there that these students will not be wasting their time on Facebook, tweeting or playing games and watching movies with their newly acquired prized winnings? There has to be a vision of IT utility as an enabler of smooth running beneficial systems, ensuring transparency and accountability at each stage of a process. But do we really want them, for as a nation we are not trained to plan before proceeding or handle responsibility?

    The writer is an ex-assistant commissioner Income Tax, IT and Change Management consultant and a Public Sector Management analyst.

    Email: drsaniachaudhry@gmail.com