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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Reshuffling of bureaucracy: A much needed change?

Pakistan is again witnessing a reshuffling in the bureaucracy with the aim of better performance and achieving good governance. In this regard, Dr. Farid A Malik, an Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation discusses how reshuffling is not the solution to achieve good governance. In fact, the focus should be on the monitoring and supervision of the appointed bureaucrats.

With posting out of five Chief Secretaries (CS) and six Inspector Generals (IG) of Police in three years in the largest province of the country, reshuffling continues. The bureaucracy has failed to provide relief to the public. Even office hours are not kept. There is a total lack of seriousness with a total lack of monitoring or supervision of the seniors. Outside every office, signs should be posted saying; “No payment no service, No mask no entry.”

While the Police performance remains sluggish as always with the bureaucracy not too far behind. I have had the opportunity of personally interacting with three CSS. None of my requests have been acknowledged or acted upon despite reminders. My last meeting with the CS was held at his official residence located on Aikman Road in GOR, Lahore. I was surprised to see a home office building in the lawns of the princely residence of the Baboo-e-Azam of the province. It took me back into the memory lane when I last visited this place during the tenure of Afzal Agha Sahib in the decade of the sixties.

Read more: Corrupt bureaucrats: An uphill battle for Pakistan?

Lack of supervision has its consequences 

At that time all official work was carried out at the Civil Secretariat while there was a small reception room where the telephone operator sat. All official work was carried out at the secretariat. When Comrade Hanif Ramay as Chief Minister (CM) held his open kutchery from the office there, his on-the-spot orders were carried out. The bureaucrats could not hide behind the files. The IG also operated from there. In management collection or close proximity of offices is always considered to facilitate coordination which is now missing.

The IG now sits in the newly built Police Headquarter Complex outside the secretariat. It used to be an old colonial-style building used by the force before it was converted into a modern complex where entry of people and cars is restricted. The IG operates from behind closed doors with almost no public access. The infamous Old Anarkali Police station where most political activists were kept during the movement against the first dictator continues to operate in its old ways, the towering IG complex next door has no influence on their performance. Despite incurring huge financial expenditure, the performance of the force has not improved.

The CM Secretariat is now located in GOR on Club Road. The offices of the three main players of the province (CM, CS, IG) are all spread out causing serious coordination issues both for the public and the political leadership. Perhaps the performance of the bureaucracy is worst in Punjab with AJK being the best followed by KP. Relief to the public seems to be on no one’s agenda. Public records are ill-kept and mutilated. Thank God! the weekly infernos have now stopped, providing some relief, but the damage has been done. The influence of the long-ruling Muslim Leagues (PML-N, PML-Q) runs deep in most departments.

Read more: Corruption: Pakistan’s crippling problem – Dr. Farid A. Malik

The ‘darlings’ of the regime being incompetent as ever

In Lahore, right under the nose of the CM most senior officers are chips off the old block built around  ‘Muk Maka’ (Wheeling-dealing) and  ‘Mitti Pau’ (Cover-up), where merit is unknown to them.

The big mess in the province has to be sorted out by the CS and IG under the overall guidance of the CM. There are weaknesses in all three pillars of the province. Directives are not followed, there is no monitoring or follow-up. The bureaucracy stands by the bureaucracy while the Police force seriously lacks a chain of command. The Police Stations all operate independently under the SHOs (Station House Officers). There is a massive misuse of perks and facilities. The SHO’s and the sub-ordinate staff does not reside on the station premises as it used to be at one time. It is perhaps the most loosely controlled armed force let loose to exploit the public with no accountability or recourse.

The Office of the Ombudsman, Information Commission, Courts are all loaded with cases originating from ‘Executive Abuse’ which the CM Secretariat as the custodian of public interests has not been able to check. In other words, there is a lack of performance at all levels.

Since the year 1985, the governance structure in the province has been manipulated by the Sarkari Muslim Leagues which were tasked to reduce the influence of Bhutto’s People’s Party. First, it was Nawaz Sharif (NS) who took control of 7 Club Road, the official residence of the CM, followed by Ghulam Haider Wyne who acted under the tutelage of their younger brother Shahbaz Sharif (SS). From this pivotal position, NS challenged the authority of the elected PM Benazir Bhutto. The establishment of that time ensured a united front against the ‘People’s Power’ of the Bhutto party.

Read more: Pakistan: World of notices, directives & tasks but no follow

Looking back at the challenges faced by the federal government 

NS together with the support of Punjab Police and the provincial bureaucracy gave tough times to the federal government. Till the elections in 2018, this anti-people, flawed structure of governance remained in place where service to the common man was not on the agenda. Massive recruitments against merit and out-of-turn promotions were carried out both in the Police and the civil administration. It was a team effort to establish control, the term ‘Takht-e-Lahore’ was used where the CM ruled with the help of the Police and bureaucracy.

After brothers NS and SS, another family duo came to the fore. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi became CM while Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain controlled the center. A new ‘Royal  Court’ was built at 8 Club Road from where the CM operated. The CS also started operating from his home office in GOR reducing the importance of the civil secretariat. This ‘Takht’ has to be dismantled to serve the public as was the approach till July 1977. GOR was built by the colonists to house their officers away from the public. Official business was carried out at the secretariat which was called ‘Latt Sahib ka Daftar’.

In principle, I am against this colonial concept of GORs but at least in the short term, all offices should be moved from here. The CM, CS and IG should all operate from the secretariat where the public has easy access. Police need a major purge to restore the chain of command while bureaucracy needs to be realigned to weed out the favorites who have dominated the official arena. All public complaints should be first acknowledged and then addressed in a reasonable period of time, this ‘Khu Khata’ (Bottomless pit) approach should end.

Read more: To the “reluctant honchos”, Pakistan needs honest leadership – Dr. Farid A. Malik

After five failed CS and six IGs, a fresh start has to be made to ensure responsiveness in the administrative structure of the province with CM in the driver’s seat to deliver good governance which the people deserve. A perfect recipe of misgovernance; “The CM, CS, IG all reside in the in the security of convergence of GOR but work in the insecurity of divergence”. Such a disjointed system cannot deliver.

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