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Friday, April 19, 2024

How can we restore an institutional order in Pakistan?

According to Dr. Farid A Malik, an ex-Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation, no country can function with institutions that don't work properly. Today, most administrative units in the civil sector have no function. Bureaucratic reforms have always been high on any government's agenda, but the reality remains bleak. For the sake of the nation and our coming generations restoring institutional order must be taken seriously.

No country can function without functional institutions that is why it is important to maintain an institutional order in Pakistan. Today most administrative entities in the civilian sector are non-functional. Dr. Ishrat Hussain worked for three long years to suggest bureaucratic reforms but finally decided to go back to Karachi without overseeing the implementation of his work. Fortunately, as this subject is close to my heart, I had a chance to meet him a couple of times during my visits to Islamabad. He operated from the Prime Minister (PM) Secretariat.

Reforms of the bureaucracy have always been high on the agenda of every government yet the ground realities have remained grim. The deliberate induced decline since 1985 has continued unabated mainly because the ground situation is not fully understood by the reformers. My friend Brig (R) Imran Malik narrated an interesting event. During his posting as Military Secretary (MS) to Mir Zafarullah Jamali, the PM decided to go to the office on time at 0900 Hours.

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Why there is an urgent need for reforms?

The transport was not available so he had to borrow the personal Suzuki car of the security officer. When they arrived at the Secretariat, the gates were shut with the night security guards on duty. Finally, when they entered the PM office there was hardly any staff, even the senior officers had not arrived. As the word went around about the early arrival of the boss, most called in sick and took the day off.

Keeping office hours is the basic work requirement for any organization to function. Worldwide both in the public and private sector, the opening and closing office hours are clearly displayed and then enforced. In the land of the pure, most employees arrive around 1100 hours. Around 1230 preparations start for Prayers and Lunch break after which most people do not return. So, the average daily work hours are around 1.5 to 2 hours. Nothing moves on its own unless pushed or propelled with wheels of corruption. Before any reforms can be introduced, such institutions have to be made functional.

The chain of command has to be restored together with the movement of files and paperwork. The judiciary has to carry the load of the non-functioning bureaucracy. More than half of the civil litigation is caused by executive abuse which can be easily be corrected within their own domain. Revenue and taxation matters should be handled by the respective departments but eventually, land up in the courts causing a massive overload of the judicial system which may eventually cause its collapse. The Information Commissions and the Ombudsman’s Office have made a difference but more needs to be done.

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Why are we defenseless against the mafia system?

There is a talk about the Mafia control of most institutions but no one is willing to take them on. Yes over the years promotions and recruitment were done in violation of merit to win favors, these out-of-turn black sheep have now positioned themself in vital positions of control and authority. In the absence of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and accountability, no positive outcome is possible. Without basic structural changes, institutional order cannot be restored in this non-functional setup.

Monitoring office hours (0900 to 1700 hours and 0900 to 1600 hours) should start right away with strict penalties for violation combined with SOPs can make a real difference. Once the order has been restored, reforms can then be implemented but not before that. For any meaningful change to take place, a planned movement is required which has been missing. Learning only starts when unlearning has been accomplished. With the entrenched status quo, the task remains difficult.

In the decade of the eighties when George Bush Senior was the President, US Navy was facing serious problems of control. Quite like our current situation, everyone had a story to tell but with no plans for course correction. Finally, as Commander-in-Chief he ordered shutting down of all operations till all outstanding issues were resolved. It was a perfect application of Total Quality Management (TQM) principles. Since then the same approach has been adopted worldwide. In Japan, the Deming Model of TQM is followed while in the USA several models are available.

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For effective treatment of any ailment, diagnosis plays an important role

As Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, I implemented the ISO-9000 Quality Management System which involved training and documentation followed by certification by international auditors. Malaysia under Dr. Mahatir Muhammad introduced the same system in the entire state apparatus. I remember during the Hajj, all Malaysians followed standard SOPs and were very organized while all the others were mostly in disarray.

Unfortunately, most policymakers are not aware of the ground realities and those who understand them are not willing to change. Professional judgment is then required to start the treatment. As a student of management who has worked on both sides of the fence, I firmly believe that major surgery is required to eliminate the tumors of the last three to four decades. If they cannot be cured then they have to be sidelined to limit their negativity.

All the mainstream players have to be qualified, able and honest as they were till the fateful non-party elections of 1985. Despite claims, till today merit does not prevail, appointments have been made without due process which must stop. For the sake of the nation and our coming generations restoring institutional order must be taken seriously to avoid such a recent incident in which the lawyer in uniform was arrested for breaking the glass window dividers of the Lahore High Court copy branch.

The writer is Chairman 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 the editorial policy of Global Village Space.