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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Declining performance of bureaucracy in Pakistan

Dr. Farid A. Malik, an ex-chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation talks about decreasing performance of bureaucracy in Pakistan by comparing a recent incident of Gujranwala commissioner losing his dog. He highlights that if a commissioner is not able to take care of his most important possession then how he is able to take care of the district that falls under him.

Commissioner Gujranwala, the great pet lover, lost his pedigreed German Shepherd dog. As the loss was unstainable, he decided to launch a street search. The entire administrative machinery of the district including the police was deployed to recover the canine. Being a dog lover myself, I wish and pray for the recovery of his pet but considering the responsibility of the post, the matter requires serious consideration. The province of Punjab has nine divisions headed by Commissioners, the districts are under the Deputy Commissioners who report to him.

If the most prized possession of the Division Head is not safe one can imagine the state of the area under his jurisdiction. Once this ordeal was over, the Commissioner should have been sent home as he was unable to guard his own house. A transfer is not viable as it only spreads incompetence.

Read more: How bureaucracy of Pakistan could have reformed?

Is bureaucracy in danger?

The performance of bureaucracy has declined to dangerous levels. A few months back the Commissioner Bahawalpur was made OSD (Officer on Special Duty) due to lack of delivery; incidentally, he too is a dog lover. While Dr. Ishrat Hussain was working on ‘Bureaucracy Reforms’, the Prime Minister indicated his desire to seek public inputs into ACRs (Annual Confidential Report) of civil servants.

It is a good move that will be resisted by the rank and file of the non-performing bureaucracy. In our younger days, a story circulated about the meaningful dream of the watchman. His employer was scheduled to travel by air the next day. The watchman dreamt of a crash.

He pleaded with his boss to call off his trip to save his life. The dream came true, the boss thanked and heavily tipped the watchman but fired him as he was not expected to sleep on the job which he did. I am sure someone must have dozed off in the Commissioner’s mansion which allowed the theft to take place. No place is safe if the guards sleep on their posts. The entire district is unsafe if the head is not awake and alert. The ailment runs deep which needs to be treated without delay.

Read more: Pakistan’s bureaucracy needs overhaul

The power of deputy commissioner

In the decade of the sixties, while traveling by road to Rawalpindi we stopped on the way to visit family friends posted in Gujranwala. Sheikh Muhammad Akram was the Deputy Commissioner (DC), he lived in a huge house where the flag of Pakistan was hoisted. In the Raj days, the Union Jack was used as the DC representing the King of England. He enjoyed the absolute powers of the monarch (administrative, judicial, revenue).

In other words, the DC was the king of his district, he could order arrests, convict and deprive the individual of his/her property. Under the Devolution Plan of 2002, judicial magistrates were separated from the executive and the police were given autonomy.

Despite these adjustments, the DC and his Commissioner remain powerful. Till the decade of the eighties, bureaucracy remained functional, most officers were responsive, upright and honest. Sheikh Sahib had joined the Provincial Civil Service (PCS) after completing his Master’s degree in Chemistry from Aligarh University. In his last assignment, he headed a tribunal in Lahore.

Read more: How Pakistani politics, civil society & bureaucracy promote Corruption?

As there was very little activity, he wrote to the Chief Secretary to post him out. Such officers were once the backbone of the administrative setup. Despite immense powers, they served public interest to the best of their abilities. After retirement, he lived on his meager pension with no personal property.

An example from Ethiopia 

After Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, the longest surviving monarch was deposed, a paper was published about his collection of dogs while Ethiopians were dying of hunger. The famine that hit the region was devastating but the Emperor‘s pets were taken care of at the cost of the suffering masses. It shows the mindset of rulers and their inhuman priorities. Like most colonized countries, Pakistan has been ruled by a ‘royal bureaucracy’.

In Ethiopia, the color of the masters and the slaves was the same whereas in the Islamic Republic, the ‘Brown Sahib’ replaced the ‘Gora’. In the first decade of independence, officers like Sheikh Sahib whose minds were opened by Sir Syed’s Aligarh University tried their best to serve the common man but then the pendulum swung the other way.

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

It is now ‘pets over people. Haile Selassie lives on through these colonial networks that rule over us even after seven decades of so-called freedom from the royal yoke. Bureaucracy needs a major overhaul, the focus should be on serving the people instead of searching for pets. As a start to this crusade, both Commissioners (Gujranwala, Ex-Bahawalpur) should be sent home to spend time with their beloved dogs where their hearts are. The latest reports are that the prized dog has been found, what a great performance.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is an Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation. The article has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.