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Monday, April 15, 2024

Corrupt bureaucrats: An uphill battle for Pakistan?

Dr. Farid A Malik, an Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation laments that our country is never going to find its way to prosperity if we keep ignoring underlying corruption and incompetent bureaucrats in our system.

The Prime Minister (PM) has clearly indicated his desire to provide maximum relief to the public in the remaining two years of his regime. With a non-performing and disinterested bureaucracy, it is an uphill task. In the last forty years, most civilian institutions have been rendered non-functional. The chain of command no longer exists. Notices, directives, tasks carry no weight. Influential individuals in positions of authority are either clueless or reluctant to challenge the inertia that exists.

Executive abuses go unpunished. Instead of punishing the corrupt, departments indulge in cover-up and defense of their unscrupulous peers. More than half of the civil litigation emanates from this bureaucratic high-handedness. Due to a lack of transparency and accountability, the public is made to suffer while the perpetrators of crime go scot-free.

Read more: Declining performance of bureaucracy in Pakistan

The ability of bureaucrats to dodge accountability

In the 1972 interim constitution, under article 216, Administrative Accountability Courts were to be established. In the 1973 permanent version, article 212 was legislated with toned-down jurisdiction. In 1979 the entire clause was removed, instead, the department of Ombudsman was created which has met with limited success. Then under the right to information act, Information Commissions have been launched both at the federal and provincial levels.

The PM Portal is also available for the online filing of complaints but in all cases, the bureaucracy seems totally disinterested in providing relief. Information is held back, facts are distorted, deliberate delays are a norm. Opinions differ, some believe it is by design while others maintain that there are serious capacity issues. Last year, there were serious charges of corrupt practices against the Settlement and Rehabilitation Wing of the Board of Revenue (BOR).

Finally, the Chief Settlement Commissioner (CSC), the Secretary, Officer Incharge Records, Legal Council were all removed which was a good move but their decisions were not reviewed. The public was asked to file a writ in the Lahore High Court (LHC). Once the writs are filed, the department then comes to the defense by hiring expensive lawyers.

Read more: The rotten bureaucracy of Pakistan and its love of leisure and dogs!

For how long are we going to ignore corrupt bureaucrats? 

When corruption of the staff has been determined, quick relief to the public can be delivered by review of the cases decided by these unscrupulous officers. The CSC then managed to become Commissioner Bhawalpur Division from where he was removed and made an OSD for lack of performance. I have been informed that he has now managed to get into the Provincial Ombudsman’s office to correct executive abuses for which he was punished in the first place.

The PM desires public inputs for the promotion of civil servants which is a good move but the framework has to be developed to receive and then act upon them. At the end of the day, it is the bureaucracy that gets the final laugh as they control the paperwork and move the files. In the decade of the sixties, a commission was set up for reform of the bureaucracy under Justice A. R. Cornelius.

Public inputs were sought where members interacted with the public at the YMCA Hall on the Mall. Far-reaching reforms were proposed in the colonial set up but before the final recommendations could be published, the two civil service members leaked the findings to develop resistance against implementation.

By far it is the most comprehensive effort at introducing reforms in the administrative machinery of the country. It was Justice Cornelius who then included the clause of Administrative Accountability in the interim 1972 constitution. Mafia infestation is also a reality in most departments but no one is willing to take them on. As Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), I had to personally deal with them but one cannot expect the blind to lead the blind. Most senior bureaucrats are unwilling to side with the public by challenging these entrenched evildoers.

Read more: How bureaucracy of Pakistan could have reformed?

Incompetencies in systems making the country a laughing stock 

Punctuality and attendance are other big problems with the bureaucracy. Head of Departments (HOD) has no idea about the work, performance, or timings of their subordinate staff. Bureaucracy has decided to stand by the bureaucracy instead of providing relief to the public. Even public welfare legislation is resisted by bureaucrats. About a year back, a PTI delegation was invited by the Communist Party of China to visit their training institutes that play a key role in policy formulation and implementation. I am sure some useful observations must have been made but not implemented.

In the year 1981 when Iran was consolidating its revolution, Islamic Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran e Inqilab) were sent all over the country to help the public. As petrol was being rationed due to the Iran-Iraq war, coupons were required to obtain it. While driving back to Pakistan, we ran out of fuel so we decided to seek the help of the Guards. We were taken to the house of the Coupon in charge, who issued them on the spot. While the Shah’s Bureaucracy sat in comfortable offices, the Guards were housed in tents outside, freely available for public relief.

Till today PML-N workers exercise such influence in the bureaucracy by exercising mutual accommodation or ‘Muk Maka’ which is their specialty. But to enforce merit through a bureaucratic setup that is itself not meritorious is almost impossible. The highly infested bureaucracy needs a major clean-up. The ‘Darlings’ of the previous regimes who enjoyed out-of-turn promotions, perks, and prestigious appointments have to be weeded out to bring normalcy and public responsiveness to the bureaucracy.

Read more: Pakistan’s Bureaucracy: A legacy of British colonial era?

PTI can post its Tiger Force in important departments to monitor their punctuality and their performance by preparing reports to be submitted to the PM and CM Secretariats. The time is limited, unless major reforms are introduced in the next six months, bureaucracy will seriously impede the re-election chances of the party in power. The public must be provided relief, those who come in the way must be dealt with the bat and yorked out of the pitch for the match to continue.

The writer is an Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.