Pakistan Today: Peshawar: Sunday, Febraury 12, 2017.
The Pakistan Tehrik i Insaaf (PTI) has been sending out factually incorrect information in the form of misleading info-graphics, regarding their government’s performance in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, using their widely followed social media accounts as a platform.
As per documents obtained by Pakistan Today, the PTI has been propagating incorrect statistics by overstating the actual extent of their education development projects in KP. The data comes from the KP government itself after the education department was asked to provide a complete account of school development statistics through a Right to Information (RTI) application. And while the PTI would say there is no need to use the RTI as they already share most ‘facts’ on the internet, the stats given by the education department are astounding. The request, sent on January 20th, received a response on February 10th, and shows a preposterous amount of discrepancies between the stats flaunted by the PTI on its social media accounts compared to the stats delivered by the PTI run KPK education department.
According to claims made by official PTI twitter accounts and retweeted by numerous accounts of party leaders, the PTI education department, over the past three-years, has made a total of 12,031 additional classrooms, while the information provided by the education department in response to the RTI application records the addition of only 7,937 classrooms. Similarly, only 7,708 boundary walls have been put up compared to the PTI account’s tall claims of 13,638. The amount of water supply has only been 9,528 instead of the 12,198 proudly tweeted by the PTI. Electrification quantified by the PTI at 9,856 is not even close to the 6,712 the KP education department has reported, and if solar panels are accounted for in electrification, the difference is more than double. It was somehow also convenient for the PTI to make changes that were not all that significant, jumping the amount of public latrines from 15,339 in the official accounts to the next thousand at 16,018 on social media.
Perhaps if there were only a few inconsistencies the PTI could be given the benefit of the doubt, but the sheer magnitude of the data gap makes it impossible to ignore. The only explanation as to the absurd difference in what should be solid, tangible, quantifiable numbers is that the PTI is presenting to the public ‘alternative facts’ to what the education department is officially recording in their books.
However the most quizzical part of the data gap has to be the fact that the amount of progress in the education sector claimed by the PTI was supposedly made in 3 years. The data provided by the education department shows that the actual progress made by the PTI government, which is significantly less in all ways than what they had claimed on twitter, was made not in 3 years but in more than 3 and a half years. In almost Orwellian fashion, the PTI seems not only to have done lesser work than it has claimed, but has actually 7 months longer to do so than it was attempting to portray.
The PTI has admirably leveraged social media to make engagement in political dialogue more easily accessible. But the party’s reliance on self-made fake news pushed through graphics that are aesthetically designed to seem reliable is debilitating for the party and misleading for its followers. The problem with shamelessly warping quantifiable statistics for political posturing is that there is no end to what can and cannot be said, making room for a dangerous avenue of political rhetoric.
The PTI lead education department has responded to the allegations characteristically: by replying to a tweet which had questioned the inconsistencies. The official line, which does not seem particularly trustworthy by now, was that the stark difference was there because the statistics given by the education department were for certain conditional grant projects and not for the PTI’s overall performance.
But the RTI application was filed after the KP education department itself offered to hold itself up to scrutiny in an interaction with Islamabad-based researchers on social media. So, the RTI application requested the data in its entirety rather than for a single project – as suggested. The requested information was, after all, part of the public domain, which is accessible to anyone through the Right to Information Act, 2013. Why the entirety of the information would not be given is yet another unanswered question.