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Sunday, April 14, 2024

How merit has been manipulated in Pakistan?

Dr. Farid A Malik talks about how in Pakistan, merit is losing its importance. There are several appointments where 'Merit' has been manipulated to accommodate friends right under the gaze of the PM Secretariat. Despite complaints, no action is taken to correct the mischief so it's important we pay attention to the institutional framework of recruitment and the reward system that should be merit-based so that good governance can be achieved.

Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan has been highlighting the importance of merit for the last three years yet it has not prevailed nor will it unless the basics are covered and the old hounds pushed out. The Armed Forces of Pakistan remain functional despite the overall gloom and doom outside, it is mainly because merit prevails in recruitment and promotions.

The selectors are neutral and keep changing and the same applies to the promotion boards. There is accountability with effective performance measurement. The career path is clearly defined, very few make it to the top, only after going through the grind. While on the civilian side crimes of omission are not punishable, they carry serious consequences for the men in uniform. The chain of command exists, there are no ‘Mafias’ who can control or manipulate the system as a fresh start is made with regularity.

Read more: How can we restore an institutional order in Pakistan?

For the last three decades, most civilian institutions have been non-functional

Yet the hiring and promotions are carried out by those very individuals who were responsible for this decline in the first place. The search committees consist of peers who promote their subordinates and remain unchanged for decades, there is no concept of neutrality or recusal. In India, a high court judge withdrew himself from the selection process when his nephew was being considered. In his ‘Recusal Note’, he wrote that he does not want to be a part of the committee before which his relative was appearing. A writ was filed against the selection as the process was compromised, the members were made aware of the relationship of the judge with the candidate.

Unfortunately, all such influences are overlooked in the selection of candidates in the land of the pure. Lt. General Attiq-ur-Rehman wrote in his autobiography the parting words of General Douglas Gracey the last British Commander-in-Chief. “After we are gone you will destroy all institutions because of nepotism” and we have exactly done that. Clans, relatives, friends, subordinates, village folks even religious sects prevail over merit.

When I took charge as Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), the foremost excuse for slow delivery was the shortage of staff. Finally, I issued orders for immediate recruitment of approved vacancies. To my utter dismay, I discovered that there was very little interest in filling the positions as they were kept hidden for their favorites. Two young scientists were hired on merit which did not sit well with the ‘Mafia’. A call letter was issued to one of them who joined in time while the other called to inquire about his offer letter.

Read more: Pakistan’s dishonorable conduct in politics

On inquiry, I came to know that his communication was deliberately sent to an erroneous address. While a fresh call letter was issued, the Admin Officer walked into my office with a plan to blackmail me. As he considered himself to be irreplaceable, he requested to proceed on long leave which I immediately approved. In utter disbelief, he apologized and wanted to withdraw his application but it was too late, his bluff had been called. He was then transferred out of the administration as I came to the conclusion that with him in control of paperwork merit would not prevail. Despite calls from important and powerful offices for his restoration, I held my ground. A fresh start had to be made for which new players were needed

Those who nominate their peers should not be involved in their selection

I am personally aware of several appointments where ‘Merit’ has been manipulated to accommodate friends right under the gaze of the PM Secretariat. Despite complaints, no action is taken to correct the mischief. The President acts on the advice of the PM as such does not carry any blame. For the sake of merit, the PM should initiate an inquiry in all the senior appointments (Grade 21, 22 and equivalent) in the last three years. During his stint in the office, the late Comrade Naeem-ul-Haq did keep an eye to ensure Meritus’s selection. All Selection/Search Committees should be disbanded to bring in the much-needed neutrality. Conflict of interest and the principle of ‘Recusal’ should be strictly followed.

Merit lists must be prepared for all positions. There is foul play even in shortlisting. I remember when my term ended as Chairman PSF, I applied for the position of Chief Executive of the Engineering Development Board (EDB). When I was not called for the interview, I lodged a complaint with the Minister on which I got a telephone call from one of the selection committee members for an interview which I turned down as it was more of an eyewash. Most institutions are in the control of ‘Mafias’.

Merit goes against their interests as such they work against it. The institutional decline that we face today can only be reversed through ‘Merit’ for which a lot of homework needs to be done which is seriously lacking in the land of the pure and is seriously affecting its purity.

Read more: Pakistan’s dishonorable conduct in politics

The institutional framework has to be strengthened. The recruitment and reward system must be merit-based. While appointments to political positions are time-based those seeking regular employment stay on. Since the dreadful non-party elections of 1985, individuals were hired and then promoted against merit to win favors and loyalty which must be reversed to revive institutions. Hiring SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) have to be enacted and then strictly followed. Those recruited on merit stand out and deliver while the back door entrants work underground and do not grow. This lack of growth is detrimental both for the person and the organization in which they operate. Today stagnation prevails in most civilian institutions which have to be corrected for our survival. Must remember; ‘There is many a slip between the desire and enforcement of merit’.



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