Muzaffargarh is an agricultural district in the south of Punjab province, located in the form of a strip between the River Sutlej and the River Indus. It produces high quality cotton which has led to the establishment of cotton-based textile industry in the district. Besides, there are a couple of flour mills, edible oil mills, paper mills, oil refineries, sugar mills, and others providing livelihood to the local workforce as well as the outsiders.
It has not been easy for the industries set up here to find skilled labour locally, so they have brought non-local workers as well. Fortunately, there is a good network of canals in the district that helps farmers grow different crops on its fertile land.
But despite all this, Muzaffargarh has not been able to progress according to its true potential and a large chunk of its population has remained poor and illiterate. The local population of this area has mostly remained engaged in agriculture and cared less to develop other employable skills and get education. The fact that the district lies in a disaster-prone region, where it is vulnerable to high floods, has added to its miseries. During the floods of 2010, Muzaffargarh was one of the worst-hit districts of the country as it faced huge loss of human life, infrastructure, livelihood, crops, and livestock. Whenever the district faces a major catastrophe, all the development carried out here is undone and everything has to be started afresh.
To cater to the different needs of the district, especially to impart the local youth with employable skills, the Punjab Youth Workforce Development (PYWD) project was launched in selected districts of South Punjab including Muzaffargarh. The project, which had won financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), started identifying young boys and girls from the district for enrolment in technical and vocational trainings in different trades. These trades included tourism, hospitality, hotel management, tailoring, solar panel services, clinical assistance, pest farm management, professional photography, mobile repairing, beautician services, so on and so forth.
During the hunt for the eligible youth and engagement with the community, PYWD identified a major issue that had impeded the growth of the district and its people but had not gained much attention of the policy makers. It was revealed that a large number of youths did not have their birth certificates, domicile certificates etc, without which they cannot qualify for this programme.
Most of the times they have no idea as to which section or person to approach and in case they do, the relevant person would not be present on his seat. It is not they have never tried to obtain these, but the fact is that the procedure of getting them from the deputy commissioner’s office is so complex and cumbersome that they abandon their pursuit half-way. The same is the ordeal for the people who want to get firearms licenses, route permits, copies of records, etc.
Qaisar Nadeem, Chief of Party, PYWD Project, says they approached Dr Ehtesham Anwar, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Muzaffargarh and discussed the issues faced by the public in general and ways to facilitate them. After deliberations, an agreement was reached to set up a one-window facilitation center where citizens could apply for the documents required and receive them from the same place once ready. The main objective of this initiative will be to save people from the unnecessary hassle and interaction with DC office staff as well as the agents’ mafia operating there.
Qaisar adds, the deputy commissioner was very supportive, and he helped them in all possible ways to set up this facilitation center. He says he identified a big conference hall in the DC office compound which was converted into a state-of-the-art center at a very affordable cost within a period of 10 days.
He says to make the project sustainable, a 10KV solar power system was installed atop the building to ensure uninterrupted electricity round the clock. The running cost is also not that high because the existing staff of the DC office will be performing those duties here and no additional recruitment is required.
The center integrates four basic governmental services rendered for public benefit, including issuance of domicile certificate, licenses, route permits, and record copying, thus easing interface between citizens and the government. Different departments are providing one or more services through different laborious processes, which may be automated or manual. There is one delivery counter where people can collect their required documents on the given dates.
Dr Ehtesham Anwar, DC Muzaffargarh, who is a Hubert Humphery fellow and a beneficiary of United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan programme, was quoted as saying that his awe-inspiring experience with such facilitation centers in the United States left him envisaging having the same here in Pakistan. The USAID did not take time to approve funds for this project having embedded benefits for the locals, Anwar said adding the model won much praise at the government level, strengthening the chances of its being replicated in other parts of the province by the authorities concerned.
Salman Abid, a local governance specialist and proponent of the concept of open government, said this model must be emulated across the province. According to Abid, setting up such centers will not be a problem once the local government system is in place after elections and the district governments have sufficient funds to set up facilities for people. He went on to add that this initiative would open records for people and make them feel comfortable once they reach this office. This mindset is also a prerequisite to bring such a revolutionary transformation in the system of governance we are exposed to, Abid said.
The writer is a staff member