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Thursday, May 23, 2024

OpEd: How bureaucrats and dinosaurs are very similar

For the last two years, it is evident—either the horse is out of control or the rider is nervous, as the ride has been very bumpy for the public.

About 20 to 30 million years ago, large mammals like the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Once these beasts were gone, other smaller animals found room to grow. In the year 1985, a team of the Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) discovered in the Bugti Hills area of Balochistan the remains of the largest mammal that ever existed. After a hectic search by a joint team of palaeontologists of the University of Montpelier, France and the Pakistan Museum of Natural History (PMNH), a huge skeleton was discovered in the year 2000. It was named Baluchitherium or the Beast of Balochistan.

The skeleton is on display in Islamabad outside the museum located on Garden Avenue, Shakarparian which is worth a visit. While the dinosaurs gained publicity in the famous epic, ‘The Jurassic Park’, our find remains less publicised mainly because Islamabad is a city of dinosaurs.

The height of this beast that roamed in the Bugti Hills area was 18 feet, weighed 20 tons and consumed about 2 tons of fodder daily from leaves and twigs of tall trees. Balochistan must have been a rich forest land at that time. Once the area could not feed the huge mammal it perished, to be discovered centuries later by surveyors and scientists. With beasts of such high consumption, today the land is barren with hidden treasures underneath.

Read more: Opinion: civil servants not so civil anymore

In the capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan there are two glutenous living beings on display; the Skeleton of Baluchitherium in the Shakarparian area on the same road that leads to the Pakistan Monument and the Secretariats on Constitution Avenue where the bureaucrats are found.

According to the Civil Servants Statistical Bulletin, there are 663,234 sanctioned posts out of which 581,755 have been filled, 81,479 or about 13% are vacant. While 95.37% employees are in grades 1-16, 4.63% are in grades 17-22. Then there are employees of the subordinate departments, constitutional and corporate bodies and Public Sector Enterprises, all of them feed on our resources with almost no return. While the Baluchitherium had to fend for itself, these dinosaurs have to be provided for on a daily basis. Unless major changes are undertaken, another Jurassic Park could be in the making as their burden is breaking our backs.

Personal experience 

I was inspired to write about our Bureaucratic Dinosaurs after my last visit to the Chief Minister (CM) Secretariat in GOR on September 2, 2020. On the way, I was hoping—now that the law and order situation has improved—the entry into the area could be relaxed but I was proven wrong. I was told at the outer gate of GOR that the SOPs had changed, I could not enter as my car had not been registered; finally, after a few telephone calls I was let in.

Read more: The Evolution of Civil Services in Pakistan

A big fanfare meeting had been planned, there were chauffeur driven cars all over the place. Later on, I came to know that it was a high-powered meeting of all the commissioners and secretaries. What a waste of resources and time as nothing gets delivered, the ground realities remain unchanged. Everyone except the bureaucrats are aware of this lack of facilitation and performance yet nothing has been done to correct it. The consumption of Pakistan’s meagre resources continues unabated.

I was there to follow up on my meeting with the principal secretary to the CM on July 24, 2020 during which I provided all the details with documents for review of my complaint against the Board of Revenue (BOR). On August 10, 2020 I followed it up with a written request which was received by the CM office. Despite several telephone reminders when I got no reply, I decided to visit the office in person. With the pomp and show and no output, I was reminded of the Baluchitherium that had perished 20 to 30 million years ago. As a nation, are we still in the prehistoric age with dinosaurs ruling over us?

Civil service reforms: where are they?

For the last two years, Dr Ishrat Hussain has been working on civil service reforms. There seems to be no concern in the ranks of the bureaucracy, their attitude towards the public remains unchanged. The arrogance with which the dinosaurs roamed around in the forest till they perished is seen in our bureaucrats. It is widely quoted that the bureaucracy is like a trained horse that understands and then responds to the rider but in this case, it seems that the change has not sunk in.

Read more: Why Civil Services Reforms are confusing?

For the last two years, it is evident—either the horse is out of control or the rider is nervous, as the ride has been very bumpy for the public. Historically speaking, only drastic measures have been taken seriously by the overconfident bureaucrats.

Yahya Khan, after taking over in 1969, dismissed 303 senior civil servants; it sent a clear message that he meant business. The elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sent 1300 bureaucrats home; only then was he taken seriously. He then went on to overhaul the structure to deliver good governance. Defiance was dealt with an iron hand. The present grade 1-22 hierarchy was also introduced during this period. Zia promised to get rid of these grades but did not succeed. Both Nawaz and Zardari bought the loyalty of bureaucrats by out-of-turn promotions and extra perks/allowances, thereby increasing the size of the ‘dinosaurs’ while seriously denting the system.

Till the time that these all-powerful dinosaurs are cut to size, the low living mortals do not have a chance. Dr Ishrat has suggested performance reviews at Grade 20 for further promotion but it is not enough, more needs to be done. At least Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have to be implemented, to not keep people from entering the GOR, but to meet their needs. Public complaints and letters must be responded to within reasonable time. Office hours have to be kept. Misuse of perks has become a big menace; all facilities should be monetised. The non-functional bureaucracy has to be declared sick and dealt with as the nationalised banks were reformed before privatisation. In order to be taken seriously, some surgery needs to be done. Forced retirements of non-performing civil servants can also be considered.

Read more: Politicization of Civil Services in Pakistan

There is an American Apache saying; “An Apache rides the best horse, one has to decide to be the Apache or the horse”. Where are ‘the Apaches’? Why are ‘the horses’ out of control? Maybe, some ‘horse-riding classes’ are needed for the riders to make the ride smooth for the suffering masses.

Dr. Farid A.Malik is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. (Fr. General Manager PITAC, Process Engineering Manager Intel Corporation Engineering and Management Consultant). 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 The Nation 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.