It is both an honour and an opportunity to be here this afternoon to listen to the fine ideas and achievements of various branches of the Government of Punjab, but more importantly to hear your recommendations on improving our level of governance and our quality of delivery in this province. So make no mistake about the fact that we are not here to showcase our achievements alone, but that it is more important for us to seek your advice and your expertise to ensure that our initiatives are sustainable. Regardless of changes in the political weather or new scenarios, pro-public and pro-country programmes must continue. And while I say this, I would like to let you know how we started; what we inherited and where we are, and what we intend to do to improve the present state of affairs.

In 2008, when we took over the government here in Punjab, I visited the Lahore-Kasur Road. It was a project worth Rs5 billion, sanctioned in 2005 and due to be completed in 2007, before the elections. My first visit to this project was a nightmare. There had been no construction whatsoever, with billions in funds siphoned off through ‘ordinary down payments’, ‘mobilisation accounts’, ‘mobilisation advances’ and other official jargon, while the project itself was left like a desert with nothing in sight.

I visited the place at least five times in the following two years and had to change contractors, suspend government officials and even make arrests – only then could we complete this project. Alhamdullillah, through our collective efforts, this icon of corruption became a symbol of public welfare.

The most important aim was that the culture of apathy, collusion and indifference had to be changed. In addition to the natural vicissitudes of the task before us, my team (both political and bureaucratic) has had to overcome all manner of unholy alliances in order to move in the right direction. This is not to say that we have not made mistakes; after all, only angels are perfect. But we have learned from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others. That is how the world advances.

In 1998, during our previous term as the servants of this province, I introduced a policy of third party audit for major projects to ensure effective ac­­­countability.

When, by the Grace of Almighty Allah, the will of the people returned us to service, this system was mired in corruption, such that it was almost impossible to reintroduce. But now, while I would not go so far as to say that we have been able to impose such accountability in every corner of Punjab, I will state that we have been making steady improvements that are yielding dividends.

To give you another example, in the year 2004/5 we started a project called ‘Baab-e-Pakistan’ worth around Rs4 billion at its peak. This monument was to commemorate the place where the first migrants to Pakistan camped, in 1947, after the great sacrifices they made in fulfillment of the dream of Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal. The project was delayed for a number of reasons, which included the fact that one of its components was the import of white marble from Italy, budgeted at Rs900 million. Would this white marble reflect the prosperity of our people? Would it reflect our bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Or show that poverty and unemployment were being handled effectively? It was my opinion that none of these were true, and that we would be wasting a huge amount of money, and that too in foreign exchange.

Against the fiercest opposition, we settled for our own local marble, available from northern Pakistan at a cost of Rs300 million. Essentially, this is what governance is about – our concern for the country, and our desire to manage it as sincerely as we can. As the chief servant of this province, I must care for Punjab as I would for my own household. Before expending money, I must ask myself whether I am within the scope of my budget, whether my investment will be productive, whether there will be unnecessary wastage, and whether I can complete it or not.

People have asked me each of these questions about the Daanish Schools, saying that they are too expensive a solution to poverty. But it is the business of the state to make sure that every citizen has access to the highest quality of education. And the Daanish Schools are not the first such endeavour of the government – the federal government has built cadet colleges at a comparable cost, but with very different criteria of admission. Because with the Daanish Schools, we value the principle of merit, but we also open our hearts to the poor children of this country who roam the dusty streets, who live in slums and have nothing in the hand to be busy about. I think this is where Pakistan has gone wrong, and this is where, and until we make it possible for the rich and the poor alike to achieve their goals (however lofty they may be) we will not be able to correct our faulty system. And in the pursuit of this social justice, we have held ourselves accountable for each penny of public funds, and for any wastage or fraud.

This country has great potential and great talent, with brilliant minds and natural resources, many of which are still untapped. Ideally speaking, we have no need to rely on outside help. I have always welcomed foreign aid that is honourably given to us, but I cannot forget that those who donate have themselves transformed their societies and become self-sufficient without the support of others.

This task is not impossible, but it will only happen through a complete lifestyle change. When we stop importing white marble for projects like Baab-e-Pakistan, when we cease fraudulently signing away funds in the name of advance payments, and when we guard ourselves against the despondency that pushes us to ask for loans and aid in foreign capitals, we might achieve the Pakistan of Jinnah and Iqbal. If we are again voted into power by our people, then God Willing, we will continue to serve better.

The foreign aid that we accept will be taken in line with our self-respect, and will be used responsibly. For example, the Punjab Skills Development Fund, now headed by the distinguished Dr Ijaz Nabi, has done wonderful work under its previous Chairman, and will, Insha Allah, continue to do so.

This programme was designed in collaboration with the British Government, with which we have a 50-50 financial partnership without any political conditionality – other than that the money be well spent. With the support of the British taxpayers, we have developed the skills of many, many thousands of youth in southern Punjab in a project that has attracted the attention of some of the largest corporations in Pakistan. That is the way forward: to build our capacity to stand on our own feet by empowering our youth and helping them find employment both locally and abroad.

We must halt our descent into the dark ages, and the only way to do so is by relying on the strong shoulders of the 60 per cent of the people of this country who are young, and who are capable and patriotic – if we would only allow them to be so.

‘Good governance’ was once about creating an enabling environment for people to thrive. We must ensure that it does not come to mean emancipation from the government itself. That, unfortunately, is where four or five more years of the current federal administration might lead us.