The civil service must be reformed
Bureaucracy is defined as “the art of making the possible impossible“. Indeed bureaucrats are the biggest impediment to change. Most parties, including the country’s founding political party, the revered All-India Muslim League (AIML) underestimated their inertia. Most decisions are taken on the files which they control. While elected governments have to face the wrath of the people for lack of performance, they go scot free.
I was once invited to the Civil Services Academy on Walton Road to talk about Total Quality Management (TQM ). As customer orientation is the basis of quality management, my focus has always been on their satisfaction. The purpose of paperwork and documentation is to satisfy customers, not the bosses. Dissatisfied customers means poor management. During discussion I was blamed for being rather harsh with this important pillar of the state.
As a student of management, my answer was simple, those who control the files and set the tone of decision making carry 80-90 percent of the responsibility. Got a very strange reply, “As our powers are unlimited the politicians exploit us “. I advised them to initiate policy changes to rationalize their authority which they were unwilling to do. In other words they wanted to have their cake and eat it too when they so desired.
At the time of Partition, Pakistan inherited the royal colonial bureaucracy that worked under the Viceroy who was appointed by the British Parliament. While they worked in the best interests of the Crown, service to people was not on their agenda as their final controlling authority was in London. In the initial years, the spirit of freedom was alive, and everyone tried his best.
For the needed compliance of the bureaucracy,he introduced a ‘Darbari System’ through which he could bestow benefits to those who complied and favoured his interests while those who did not were sidetracked
Though the AIML had no experience of governance but with its honesty of purpose it could get the job done, and the bureaucracy was not an impediment to misguide them. Leaders like Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy who had experience of running governments and had local following, were kept at bay mainly because they came from the Eastern Wing. The first major attempt at reforms was carried out in the early 1960s by the formation of the Cornelius Commission.
The members solicited public inputs in open sessions conducted at the YMCA Hall on the Mall. Before their findings could be announced and implemented the two bureaucrat members leaked the decisions, thus building resistance to change. Some of these recommendations for reforms in the civil administration were incorporated in UK by the Justice Fullerton Commission.
In the early 1970s, the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) introduced the current grade structure (Grades 1 to 22) together with the lateral entry of much-needed technocrats. ZAB kept the files moving, and delays were not allowed. The common good became important. When the Police in NWFP (now KPK) and Punjab resisted change by going on strike, they were served an ultimatum to return within 48 hours or face dismissal.
Major reforms were carried out in the passport application process together with the introduction of National Identity Cards. The People’s Government of Bhutto lived up to its name by looking after their welfare. But it was short-lived. On 5 July 1977, the Zia Dark Ages engulfed the country. For purposes of legitimacy a third-rate political leadership was also imposed on the nation. While the Ayub Era Immoral Politicians were mostly knocked out by the 1970 free and fair elections, the Zia-Era political creations continue to haunt the nation till today.
This blatant pay for service system is disgraceful. Lack of accountability and absence of SOPs has rendered the administrative system non-functional
Mian Muhammad Sharif, also known as Abba Ji, had built his foundry business together with his brothers by the name of Ittefaq Group. Success at all costs was the motto of this outfit. It is alleged that the two raw materials (scrap, electricity) needed to produce iron and steel were obtained clandestinely. In the 1960s, while the Batala Engineering Company of C.M. Latif established a state-of-the-art foundry and engineering works at Kot Lakhpat, the Ittefaq Group managed to establish a low-level foundry where even cow dung was used for mould making. Both were nationalized in the 1970s.
The Sharifs were able to get their business back with the blessings of Zia, their political mentor. Then Abba Ji manoeuvred to get political power for the family. The Sharif Group emerged from the Ittefaq Group, and Abba Ji went his way with his three sons leaving his brothers behind to rust. Combing corruption with state power, Abba Ji was able to build his empire. For the needed compliance of the bureaucracy, he introduced a ‘Darbari System’ through which he could bestow benefits to those who complied and favoured his interests while those who did not were sidetracked.
The colonial spiritless bureaucracy that we inherited has now been turned into a rent-seeking apparatus which only functions when personal interests are involved. As change is not in their interest, it is being deliberately stalled. With poor governance and weak regulatory mechanisms, the blame falls on the elected representatives.
It is not only the political arena that needs a massive clean-up, the ‘Bureaucrats of the Darbar’ have to be sorted out too. Without customer orientation no system can deliver. Under the 1973 Constitution, promotions to Grade 21 and 22 are the prerogative of the Prime Minister, which must continue but formalized and opened up for lateral entry of qualified technocrats through the Federal Public Service Commission.
The recently introduced 20-year performance review is a positive step. Pension payments have become unbearable. While the retirees should be covered but the current system of lifelong pensions should be stopped from the next induction. A system of gratuity and provident fund should be introduced to lessen the burden on the national exchequer.
For real change to take place the bureaucracy has to be on board. This blatant pay for service system is disgraceful. Lack of accountability and absence of SOPs has rendered the administrative system non-functional. Within the current year major reforms have to be introduced to redress the grievances of the public, those who cannot buy their way through. Patience of the suffering masses in running out, the writing is on the wall to be read, and blinders will not help.
Dr. Farid A.Malik is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. (Fr. General Manager PITAC, Process Engineering Manager Intel Corporation Engineering and Management Consultant). An expert on mining and energy, currently working on developing clean Coal Technologies for Thar Deposit. He was a Shadow Minister PTI and Co-Ordinator of the PTI Think Tank where the framework of the Welfare State was developed. The article was first published in Pakistan Today and has been republished here 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.