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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pakistan enters the “Age of SOP’s”: Why these are important?

SOP's, Standard Operating Procedures are must for effective management and governance. All modern systems work through SOPs; but Pakistani citizens are familiarising themselves for the very first time with the SOP's due to this global pandemic - and many still find difficult it to adjust.

The crusade against the coronavirus continues. One good outcome of the current pandemic are the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures ).

Now everyone has been introduced to the importance of this concept. With KPIs ( Key Performance Indicators ), SOPs to meet them and effective accountability against these SOPs most organizations can be corrected.

Pakistanis getting familiar with concept of SOP’s for the first time

The newly formed National Command Operation Center ( NCOC )under the Chairmanship of Asad Umar and technical guidance of Dr Faisal Sultan, an infectious disease specialist and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Shaukat Khanum Hospital, are leading the crusade against the spread of the life-threatening coronavirus. Both are established professionals in their own fields.

While Asad rose in the ranks of the corporate world following the footsteps of two very able leaders, Shaukat Mirza and Asif Qadir, Dr Faisal has managed the hospitals well under the leadership of Imran Khan and technical guidance of Dr Nausherwan Burki. I have yet to confirm who introduced the application of SOPs into the non-performing administrative machinery of the country, but the NCOC is effective because of the use of this management tool.

Read more: Smart lockdowns in Pakistan: making them smarter

That is where we have erred in the land of the pure though we started off well. As the first-born free generation of Pakistan, we have seen both the rise and fall of our own nation in our lifetime. Some radical steps have to be taken before we lose the next generation. In the absence of SOPs and accountability most civilian institutions in the country have ceased to function. While I am sympathetic to the retirees, I think the serving bureaucracy should neither be paid nor allowed perks as they function only on the basis of pay for service.

The rule being no gratification no delivery. Rates should be fixed for all procedures in order to avoid multiple expenditures, delays and embarrassment. My father the fighter left this world fighting against these bureaucratic abuses leaving 20 court cases for me to follow,as he would not let go an injustice. Learning from his ordeal I tried to avoid litigation but finally fell into the trap as I did not grease the palms of the concerned officials.

Now the struggle goes on I will prevail in the end but not before being badly bruised. The case had been settled and the decision announced in my favour. I kept getting calls from the staff of the officer to see them. On my insistence that I would visit the office to collect the copy of the decision, the settled case was reopened and placed into scrutiny. I was taught a lesson for being upright and not following their system of gratification.

The Sharifs in their long stints in power created a ‘Darbari System’ where the bureaucracy was served with out-of-turn promotions and enhanced salaries and perks for their compliance

Yes we started off well in August 1947 as there was spirit to serve. Though we inherited a colonial system of governance which gave discretionary powers to the bureaucracy with almost no accountability, the officers and staff worked with honesty and zeal to serve the in new land. Jobs were taken seriously with no misuse of perks, merit prevailed both in hiring and promotions.

As the task was challenging, the focus was on running the departments, so not much attention was paid towards reforms. Modern management tools were widely ignored. The Cornelius Commission in the early 1960s was the first serious attempt to create a balance between the rulers and the ruled. Two members of the bureaucracy sabotaged the effort by leaking its findings before its application and the bureaucrats were able to operate without accountability which has continued till today.

Pakistan’s SOP’s and troubled government experiments

The elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced the current grade structure ( Grade 1 to 22 ) together with the induction of technocrats through lateral entry to make the system more efficient. The founding fathers of the bureaucracy mostly retired in the 1980s, and with their departure the spirit of service was also lost. Then came the Zia dark ages that destroyed all civilian institutions and worked against the masses and merit.

Read more: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: A Challenge to Status Quo

With no spirit to serve left in the administrative machinery and in the absence of SOPs and accountability, the system became totally non-functional. Since the 1980s the decline has continued unabated and unchecked. The civil administration today is in the firm grip of mafias.

The Sharifs in their long stints in power created a ‘Darbari System’ where the bureaucracy was served with out-of-turn promotions and enhanced salaries and perks for their compliance. Without major reforms of the system, honesty alone will not deliver. Transitions are never easy and must be carefully planned and implemented to take on the mafias that have been in control for decades.

Why SOP’s Matter? 

As a matter of policy all government procedures should have SOPs, violation of which can then be checked through accountability. The colonial powers of discretion have to be done away with. Public should have access to these SOPs which they can then follow to get the job done. Such a system was introduced in the 1970s for obtaining passports. Till that time it was almost impossible to get a passport without the attestation of a Class I gazetted officer.

The bureaucracy as always will resist. In Persian there is a saying, If the choice is between death and ailment, almost everyone will choose the latter

Qayyum Khan as Interior Minister introduced two SOPs, one for getting a National Identity Card (NIC ) and the other for passports. For the NIC, filled forms were given to the local postman who verified the contents and then forwarded them to the department, cards were then delivered by mail to the applicant. Similarly passport forms with copy of the NIC were submitted by mail to the Passport Office which was required to make them ready within 14 days. I followed both the SOPs.

I received a letter from the Passport Office asking me to collect my passport in person. I wrote back asking them to mail the same as per the SOPs as I was busy with my final year engineering studies. Prompt came the reply, requesting me to visit the office just once for verification with the promise that my time would not be wasted. As it was a request, I complied and got my first document to travel within 15 minutes. I used this passport to travel to the USA for higher studies in 1979, and the rest is history, as they say.

Read more: Pakistan’s bureaucracy needs overhaul

SOPs, together with accountability, is the only way forward. The bureaucracy as always will resist. In Persian there is a saying, “If the choice is between death and ailment, almost everyone will choose the latter”. For the health of the tormented people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan such an ultimatum has to be served to the non-performing, spiritless colonial bureaucracy by the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. The NCOC has set the trend, and focus should now be on SOPs and more SOPs in all government departments. Well done, Asad Umar and Dr Faisal Sultan for bringing us into the 21st century.

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.