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Monday, April 15, 2024

PIA, Railways once the top notch institutions reduced to burden the nation

Dr Farid A Malik talks about how Pakistan used to have good transportation systems and how it is being ruined by the negligence of certain institutes. He further implies how the country has changed for the good or bad with making comparison during the time of General Zia and the present government.

According to the fable of the boiling frog, if he is thrown in boiling water, he will immediately jump out. The trick is to lower him into tepid water and then gradually boil him. All living beings react to sudden threats but usually get trapped in the mundane as they are unable to read impending danger. Unfortunately today, the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (IRP) find themselves in an irretrievable position. Perhaps this is the direct outcome of the ‘Zia Doctrine’ of ‘do nothing’, in other words, crimes of omission do not matter but commissions do.

Pakistan Railways (PR) was once the pride of the nation and the largest employer. Today, it finds itself in deplorable condition as their ‘goose’ has been gradually cooked. Today, PR has the best record of recovery from accidents but the worst in preventing them.

Prevention calls for continuous ongoing efforts whereas the accidents or boil off happens occasionally in less frequency so a cover-up is possible. There is a famous saying, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”; we continue to consume pounds while ignoring the ounces that can prevent them.

Read more: Reforming Pakistan Railways

The good old days of transportations in Pakistan 

Till the decade of seventies, PR was profitable and the safest mode of transport. It was a pleasure to travel long distances in sleeper carriages with excellent dining facilities on board. The food served in the dining cars was always a treat, even the station restaurants were exceptional in quality; that too at an affordable price.

There were issues of efficacy in the movement of goods that needed attention, which could have been corrected. The Communications Minister, a retired General, was sent to fix the Railway Board run by professional Railwaymen who had played long, laborious innings with their sweat and blood to build the organisation.

Instead of improving the freight handling of PR, a new organisation was created for road transportation. The National Logistic Cell (NLC) took away the profit-earning business of PR which proved to be the cause of its decline. Both the Chairman and Secretary of the board resigned in protest. NLC made tons of money but destroyed the country’s entire road network, which then had to be rebuilt.

Read more: PIA first in the world to fly with complete vaccinated crew

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was once the trendsetter of the airline industry, ably led by stalwarts like Air Marshals Asghar Khan and Nur Khan. Merit prevailed in recruitment and promotions but then it changed. Political appointments started, resulting in overstaffing.

The same approach was adopted in other organisations as well, like the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), the Pakistan Standards Institution (Now Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority), Pakistan State Oil, etc. Compromise on merit combined with overstaffing was an institutional threat that was not taken seriously. Only the few state institutions that resisted these temptations survived while the rest have become a burden.

Nepotism affecting workforce discipline 

General Douglas Gracey, the last British Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army warned against the ills of nepotism in recruitment and promotions. As an institution, the Armed Forces to a large extent strictly follows merit. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) continues to be a powerful position but in matters of selection and promotions, his role is limited. He cannot pass on the baton to his son.

The chain of command is functional and discipline is maintained, there is no concept of coming late to work. All SOPs are strictly followed. By contrast, on the civilian side, office hours are seldom kept. Most officers/staff show up late. This lack of seriousness then reflects on their performance. Indiscipline has gradually turned into a serious threat which has rendered it non-functional. In addition to punctuality, even attendance and performance issues are serious.

As Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation, I received a complaint against a junior officer which pointed out serious performance and attitude issues. I checked the personal file of the officer, all his Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) were fine, so I called his boss for an explanation. I put a simple question; “Why is the ACR not reflective of his actual conduct?” The answer surprised me, “Cannot spoil his career.” For him, the individual came before the institution. Such non-performing individuals have moved up the ranks on the basis of fake ACRs, they have now become a major threat to governance.

Read more: Kuwait to increase Pakistan’s skilled workforce participation in the country

In one of my project management classes, a student commented that; ‘A project manager has to be a ruthless person.’ After my response, there was silence in the class; ‘Yes indeed, in order to get the job done, ruthlessness is a noble act, otherwise, not only the projects, also humans and nations have to suffer.’ Lack of focus on results has now turned into a pandemic which has rendered most organisations non-functional.

Looking back at Zia’s rule 

Without punctuality, attendance, SOPs, and focus on results, we as a nation have been roasted. This is the gift of the ‘Zia Dark Ages’ whose threats to the long-term well being of the nation were grossly underestimated. Instead of holding free and fair elections within 90 days of coming into power, he ruled for over 11 years on a fake referendum. Those who pointed out the ill-effects were let go. Heroes like MM Alam had to resign to protect their professional honour.

Read more: Ziaulhaq son blames CIA & Gen Beg for death of his father

His ‘do nothing’ doctrine overwhelmed the state apparatus. Sectors of education and health were ignored, making room for the private sector to fill the gaps at unaffordable costs. Unfortunately, we do not have the option of jumping out of the boiling water through a lot of able individuals have tried that route. It is time to go back to the basics to reverse the minor threats that have ruined us as a nation.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at  fmaliks@hotmail.com. The article has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.