Like most state institutions, the bureaucracy should also be declared sick and then appropriately treated. I was motivated to write on this subject after reading the article; “Are Service Reforms Enough” written by a very senior retired bureaucrat who remained Chief Secretary in several provinces, finally retiring as Chairman WAPDA. He has discussed the deep-rooted ailments of the Civil Service. According to him political corruption has ruined the entire state apparatus. Civil servants who have the courage to dissent are either made to sit home or transferred to sideline positions; protection of tenure is needed. According to him, without political interference and if allowed to follow rules, bureaucrats work fine. He views the non-political periods of Pervez Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz and Moeen Qureshi favourably. He also supports the induction of technocrats in senior positions; looks unfavourably at the Bhutto and Musharraf-era reforms and does not pin high hopes on the current ongoing study under Dr Ishrat Hussain.
Service and facilitation of the people has never been on their agenda. In the initial period of Pakistan when most civil servants were able and honest, relief was provided to the people. Once the founding bureaucracy perished in the mid-eighties together with the Zia Dark Ages and political corruption, the entire system became non-functional and sick. While the nationalised banks were declared sick and went through rigorous treatment before being privatised, the bureaucracy remained untouched. These financial institutions are now productive. While efforts are underway to revive the Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) like Pakistan Steel, Pakistan Railways, PIA etc, the ailment of the controlling ministries is still not taken seriously.
Like all colonial bureaucracies, the system was designed to serve, not rule. There are serious design flaws which have to be removed, public welfare has to be declared supreme. While I do not support political interference, civil servants do not provide relief to the deserving. At times, the positive interference of politicians gets the job done but again if the bureaucrats are conscientious and provide relief to the common man, then this arm twisting can be avoided. As a private but well-connected citizen who refuses to grease the palms of the clerks, I invariably face horrendous hardships in getting the job done. Now that political interference has been controlled or has become ineffective, the bureaucracy remains non-functional. With a lack of accountability, public records in shambles and no SOPs, the officers and staff mostly show up for work to collect their salaries or enjoy the perks. Letters are either not received or invariably remain unanswered.
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On my recent visit to Islamabad, I was in a meeting with a Minister who was receiving calls from the PM Secretariat for a summary which was being finalised by the Secretary of the Ministry. For two days I noticed that the staff officer went to the Secretary’s office and was told that the summary had been sent which was not received by the PM Secretariat. As I understood the system, I asked the Staff Officer to check the dispatch register, once that was checked it was revealed that the summary was still in the loop. Finally it arrived, but had flaws which had to be corrected. Considering the emergency of the case, the Minister walked down to the secretary’s office, got it corrected and sent. This is the state of bureaucracy in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Even ministers have to face the music of the colonial masters, what to talk about the public.
I was appointed Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) in August 2002. When my term was ending in 2005, I went to bid farewell to the people with whom I interacted. Senator Aitzaz Ahsan asked me a parting question, “You are still young and performing, why was your term not extended?” I replied that the ministry never moved a summary for my extension. He asked me the name of the Secretary and the Minister, as he knew both of them; he first called the Secretary who put up an excuse that as my degree was foreign it was under verification by HEC. The Senator was not convinced so he called the Minister who showed his utter helplessness in the matter. I still remember his words, “The Secretary is not happy with him”, to which the Senator said but you are the Minister, he works under you. At the ripe age of 52 with my foreign experience and credentials, I came home. The Secretary then turned around and appointed his relative from Narowal who had retired from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and was 74 years old. He protected his action on the basis that the PSF Act had not specified an age limit. This is how the royal colonial bureaucracy works without political interference. If the summary is not moved nothing gets done. Musharraf was the President, Shaukat Aziz the PM, Nauroz Shakoor the Minister, while the summary was moved by Khawaja Zaheer Ahmed to get his old relative in. No eye blinked when a 52-year-old serving Chairman was replaced by a 74 old retired scientist. It did not stop here; PSF’s land reserved for a Science Centre was taken over by the Ministry. An ugly monstrosity has been built in the Science Park where the bureaucrats now sit to ruin what remains of science and technology in the country.
Enough about the ailment of the bureaucracy which has now been diagnosed and established. In the overall darkness there is a small silver lining called the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC). PIC has the authority by law to seek information from government departments. Bureaucrats hide behind files and paperwork, at least now this absolute protection and cover has been removed. With the information on hand, the complainant can then approach the Ombudsman’s Office for direction. It is widely believed that design faults cannot be removed. This non-performing, sick bureaucracy has to be dismantled and then rebuilt from scratch. I agree that through later entry, technocrats should be inducted in key positions to recruit sub-ordinate staff strictly on merit. The entire restructuring can be accomplished in about six months; in the interim period, ministries can operate with a skeleton staff. There will have to be golden handshakes and re-entrenchments as was done in the case of nationalised banks.
Almost the entire set-up consists of non-doers, there are no mentors in the system to train newcomers. This is a perfect example of the blind leading the blind; that is why there is no delivery. The federal bureaucracy comprises around 600,000 individuals, then there are employees of constitutional sub-ordinate and corporate bodies; about 5 percent are in grades 17-22. If half of them use government transport then there are about 30,000 cars that have gasoline quota ranging from 100 to 300 litres per month. The people of Pakistan have to incur a lot of expense and then top it up with gratification to get the job done. There was a time when it was called speed money now it is a mandatory levy to move the file or summary for signatures of the President, PM or CM, if the movement of paperwork is stalled nothing moves. We as a nation are hostage to a sick institution called the Civil Service of Pakistan.