Over and under staffing: Only merit can bring efficiency

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Dr. Farid A Malik |

Institutional collapse in the country has taken place mainly because of both over and under staffing. Over staffing causes financial burdens and lowers the efficiency of the organization while under staffing seriously affects sustainability as there are no replacements when individuals retire. However, both of these evils are practiced to stall merit and induct individuals of choice with total disregard of the organizational needs and realities.

Pakistan Railways (PR), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan Television (PTV) stand out as over staffed public sector entities while there are thousands of unfilled vacancies in many ministries and their affiliated organizations. As Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation usually under staffing was blamed for lack of performance.

I decided to rationalize workload with manpower, to my shock I came to know that several approved job vacancies had not been filled for years. On further probe, it became evident that the positions were deliberately kept vacant to accommodate family and favorites. Orders were issued for immediate recruitment on open merit to fill all the vacant slots.

The President should issue an ordinance requiring all government departments’ autonomous bodies and public sector corporations to fill all approved vacancies on merit within three months or face reprimand.

It did not end here once on board most of the new hirees sought permission to apply for other government jobs. Surprised by this development, I decided to have a meeting with them. They complained that they were being treated as temporary employees with no guarantee of permanent employment. I then called the Administrator, his story did not make sense to me. He said that there was directive by the Cabinet Division to employ only on ad hoc basis.

I then personally went through the directive which clearly said ‘may be appointed ad hoc’. Which meant that the departments were allowed to hire on ad hoc basis where vacancies were not approved, it had nothing to do with approved and budgets slots. All the young officers were issued permanent appointment letters immediately under my orders. Hired on merit, they were able young professionals who are now the backbone of the foundation.

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It is my opinion that under staffing is deadlier as it stops the work altogether. Most national banks over staffed to please party workers and activists. In mid-nineties, I had a meeting with the Senior Vice President (SVP) of one of these banks to finalize a rental lease agreement of our family property.

In the course of discussion, the newspaper vendor walked in, after he left the ‘Channa Wala’ entered. As I had returned to the motherland after over a decade, I was surprised by these intrusions. The SVP laughingly explained that there were more people and less work so they have to kill time otherwise these unoccupied individuals cause disruptions in the normal workflow.

After privatization workforce has been trimmed in these banks and they have been able to reduce their payroll but they benefited from a huge pool of employees most of them were well trained and willing to work more efficiently. What would have happened if these banks were under staffed?

Since 1985 a lot of water has passed under the bridge which is now dilapidated and about to collapse. There has to be a wakeup call before it is too late. Without functional institutions, no nation can survive.

Kaptaan has promised to create thousands of jobs, some of them already exist which have not been filled by vested groups. The President should issue an ordinance requiring all government departments’ autonomous bodies and public sector corporations to fill all approved vacancies on merit within three months or face reprimand. In fact, the cabinet should formulate a policy to recruit against all positions that fall vacant within a period of three months. With a bulging youth population, unemployment has to be tackled on war footings. Organizations that are under staffed should be the starting point of a massive nationwide recruitment drive.

Over and under staffing, in both cases, merit is the target as already emphasized. Once meritocracy is compromised it is invariably the beginning of the end for an institution. The institutional collapse that we face today is a direct result of this approach. A few years back I had the opportunity to interact with the state bank. The overall competence level was quite good. I then probed their hiring and training practices which were being strictly followed. The Armed Forces in Pakistan also follows a well-established system of entry and exit which are meticulously followed. Only Martial Law periods disrupt this structure of promotions and career path.

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Institutional requirements are often ignored to accommodate individuals. The floodgates were opened after the 1985 party-less elections to gain loyalty. Every elected representative was allowed to provide jobs to their favorites. Even plots and permits were doled out to expand influence.

I graduated as an engineer in 1976. There were three job offers within weeks, all based on open merit. The steel mills in Karachi was coming up, fertilizer complexes were being built together with the Defense Production Industries around Islamabad. I picked up the one closest to home and opened my innings as Apprentice Engineer in PITAC Lahore in January 1977.

As a rule, hiring must be carried out against defined job descriptions developed according to organizational needs. Once hired, career paths should be defined and followed. The overall confusion and lack of performance is directly a result of this flawed approach where individuals are hired with total disregard to organizational requirements or positions are deliberately kept vacant to promote nepotism.

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Since 1985 a lot of water has passed under the bridge which is now dilapidated and about to collapse. We need to wake up before it is too late. Without functional institutions, no nation can survive. Staffing is the lifeline of an organization it must be carried out with utmost scrutiny. Under staffing has to be eliminated right away to save institutions followed by redeployment of surplus staff to strengthen the overloaded organizations. For nation-building to start, immediate hiring of youth is required based on merit, merit and merit.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished 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.

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