Merit is a state of mind that is rare in enslaved societies. Unfortunately without this important trait, no nation can grow or defend its freedom. Institutions are built around merit in the absence of which they become non-functional as we see them today. Political positions are temporary and move with the change of regimes but organizational appointments are long-term. Once in substantive or term employment, it becomes very difficult to get rid of the non-performers. If performance is desired then there can be a compromise on merit.
With freedom comes responsibilities that have to be shouldered by the free people. We started off well, the founding fathers were aware of the challenges of transition from subservience to independence. Till the fateful non-party elections of 1985, merit prevailed to some extent. As a graduating engineer, I was hired on open merit to start my professional career at PITAC (Pakistan Industrial Technical Assistance Centre) in the year 1977.
Read more: How merit has been manipulated in Pakistan?
The organization was well run, with good overall discipline
When I took charge as Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) in the year 2002, the environment was different. The first challenge was to restore discipline. Office timings (0800 to 1500 hours) were not taken seriously. Due to administrative high-handedness, institutional loyalty was weak. Vacant positions were not being filled as if waiting for favorites. Personal grievances existed mostly for out-of-turn promotions or financial incentives/perks. As Chairman my focus was on institutional reforms and commercialization of research, Grievance Committees were formed for early redressal.
Recruitment of merit was not easy. Like most civilian departments, the powerful Mafia was operative. Two young scientists were selected on merit. While one of them received his call letter in time, the other did not. On inquiry, I came to know that his letter was deliberately dispatched to an erroneous address. The action was taken against the dealing Deputy Secretary, he was moved out of the recruitment loop. Then a fresh round of hiring was carried out. About 25 to 30 officers were recruited after due process. They came on board and seemed happy in their positions.
After a few months, I started receiving applications from the new hires seeking permission to apply elsewhere. It came as a surprise to me so I decided to meet the group to understand their desire to leave. I was surprised to hear that they were being kept on an Adhoc basis despite their approved positions. Immediately the Admin Officer (AO) was called to explain, he referred to a directive received from the Prime Minister (PM) Secretariat regarding ad-hoc appointments. I read through the communication it said, ‘Maybe appointed ad-hoc. The directive did not apply to the approved vacancies, in fact, it allowed departments to hire unemployed individuals in addition to the regular hirees.
While a warning letter was issued to the AO, a directive was given to issue confirmation letters to all the hired officers by the end of the day. I am sure when these meritous youngmen move up the ranks, they will not only serve the organization but will ensure that merit prevails in all future promotions and appointments.
Merit is the main driving force of performance-driven societies
United States of America (USA) attracts the best talent in the world mainly because of the merit that prevails there. During my stay in the USA, I never heard the term, ‘It cannot be done. Everyone was focused on producing results and moving forward, there were no negative, regressive forces. Everyone was open and helpful, information was freely shared for informed decision making. For my professional innings in the land of the pure, it took me years to understand the negative stakeholders in our set-up who ensure that progress is stalled.
This stagnation works against merit and ensures selection and promotion of incompetence. There is a common saying, ‘Blind leading the blind’. Since 1985 this phenomenon has been ongoing in the entire civilian arena starting from the manipulated elections all the way down to recruitment in the executive and judicial branches of the state resulting in their collapse. Public sector entities that were once profitable were driven into the ground by overstaffing and unplanned hiring with disregard to job requirements. The legendary Air Marshal Nur Khan stepped down as Chairman PIA when he was pressurized to hire unwanted individuals against merit.
Nepotism has derailed merit. General Douglas Gracey the last British C-in-C warned against this scrouge. Fortunately, the armed forces did not fall into this trap but the civilians did. The selection and promotion boards have to be unbiased and neutral for meritous induction. The concept of ‘Recusal’ has to be understood and then enforced. Unfortunately, merit has been largely ignored in the land of the pure which has seriously impaired our march towards freedom. Liaquat Ali Khan the first Prime Minister of Pakistan promoted Ayub Khan against merit, so did Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif resulting in disastrous consequences for the nation.
Each one of them derailed our struggle to be free, prosperous and on our feet. Offices of Ombudsman have been created for excesses committed in administration and taxation, it is time to have a similar set-up to ensure ‘Merit’ where all shortcomings could be corrected to propel the right man for the right job to move the Islamic Republic of Pakistan forward. Only meritous individuals strengthen institutions rest weaken them, it is time to rebuild them with merit in order to consolidate our freedom.
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.