Self projection – at public expense.
Building monuments and mausoleums at public expense and naming them after themselves or their dear ones, was a royal tradition – which many of our leaders find hard to resist even to this day. Every now and then one finds a perfectly sane looking high official (what is made out to be) succumbing to the great desire of his subordinates and agreeing to let a public institution or building be named after him. The GIK institute at Topi is a classic example. The Institute has enough grounds to be famous for its high standard of engineering education. It did not need to indulge in associated acts of generosity. It is not only named after a gentleman, who was still alive and occupying an important state office at the time of its naming, but it also provides an elegant hilltop resting place (a Rs.5 million mausoleum ) intended to house the same gentleman when he bids his final farewell. The money for setting up of both these structures, (the institute and the mausoleum) came from sources other than his own pocket. (Dawn January 21, 2001). Like it happens in most such situations, both these brilliant ideas had less to do with the great Khan’s own desire to seek eternal fame, and more with the keenness of hangers-on to seek his immediate blessings. The model was perfected by increasing the size and scope of this megalomania by our famous export-oriented scientist. Traveling between Islamabad and Karachi, one can count over 24 places (football grounds, educational institutes, laboratories, behavioral institutes, hospitals, commercial centers and even housing estates) named after him. None of these were raised by his exclusive contribution and all of them were named while he was still in office. While originally only the top leadership was prone to naming public institutions after those who are still in office, this contagious disease has now been widely adopted by our educational institutes as well. Prof. Atta, our man at the Higher Education Commission, had some considerable difficulty in getting his name removed from the two buildings, Atta ur Rahman Research Complex and Atta ur Rahman Block, that were named entirely to seek his blessings. Not to be outdone, the Dow Medical University Vice Chancellor has proposed to name the institute of Oral Health Science at the Sindh Medical College (SMC) after the name of sitting governor, Ishrat ul Ibad. (Dawn September 26, 2004). While Governor Ibad may have many other contributions to his credit, the science of oral health is certainly not one of them.
The disease of naming public institutions after ourselves is invariably accompanied by a co-morbidity that requires public departments to place one’s pictures in newspapers, pay compliments and market one’s image at public expense. Count the pictures of the President, Prime Minister or Chief Ministers, sponsored by state organizations in any newspaper, and you would quickly come to understand the important priorities of the CEOs of the state run organizations. These pictures are typically a part of an appeasement campaign, often expressing heart felt gratitude to our leaders for either inaugurating this or that project, or in many cases for doing nothing. It is interesting that on any normal day, in one newspaper, you could come across any thing between 3 to 13 such pictures, with this number rising exponentially on national days, or when special supplements are brought out. A supplement is never considered complete unless it has on its top left a dozen pictures (in ascending order of unimportance), and their slogan laden messages. Thanks to the speech writers, these recycled messages pretend to say the wisest things under the sun on most complex technological issues, even when the message givers would not have the slightest clue of what the subject was all about. At a conservative estimate of three such pictorial ads per day, the state exchequer is robbed of approximately one billion rupees per year, that are perhaps shown in the expense books as the leadership ego massage expenses. The least we can do is to learn from our neighbor, whose Prime Minister, a man of wisdom as well as economics has asked Indian newspapers not to print his pictures in any such ads.
We can also learn from many western institutions and universities who have well defined , uniform and consistent procedures for naming buildings and property. In most cases, the tradition of not naming after people when they are still holding an office is well established. Even when naming a building or an institute after a person of high scholarly distinction, it is a tradition to delay the naming till after a few years of his/her retirement or death. In all other situations institutions require a specific dollar amount , normally well over $5000 for naming an endowed scholarship, $50,000 for a building and $500,000 for naming an endowed faculty position. Such well defined and published policies not just restrict the buildings to be named after serving high officials, but also encourage ordinary citizens to make transparent and well defined financial contributions in return for having buildings or institutions named after them. It is time we too begin to set up healthy traditions in all walks of life. We have an enlightened Prime Minister, who is yet to make his presence felt. Would this be asking too much, if he was to get the ball rolling by ordering newspapers to stop publishing all pictures and ads that pertain to himself or his ministers. Having done so, he could then pass a similar order for all state institutes to have a naming policy- that forbids them to name buildings after serving officials, and allows this to happen only after they are well retired or passed away.