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Friday, June 21, 2024

Restarting the stalled bureaucracy – Dr Farid A Malik

Dr. Farid A Malik talks about Pakistan's efforts of jumpstarting the stalled bureaucracy of the country as Kamran Ali Afzal has taken charge as Chief Secretary (CS). He further stresses the need for effective monitoring which will provide data for real accountability and will improve the service delivery which has been missing for a long time.

The bureaucracy has a new boss in the province. Kamran Ali Afzal has taken charge as Chief Secretary (CS) of the largest unit of the federation. He has been tasked to jumpstart the stalled engine of the administration. Bureaucracy in Punjab has been non-functional for decades. It is an uphill task. The opening speech of the incoming boss always carries weight.

I took charge of the Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) on August 15, 2002. In order to meet the team, I ordered an introductory session at 3 PM. At around 2:50 PM the Admin Officer informed me that the staff had started to gather in the auditorium, once they all will arrive he would personally escort me. I showed my annoyance at his casual attitude towards punctuality and firmly told him that I will enter the hall exactly at 2:55 PM and start my speech at 3 PM sharp.

Read more: Reshuffling of bureaucracy: A much-needed change?

Understanding the actual matter 

I made it clear that time deadlines have to be met as a good management practice. It set the tone of the organization. Throughout my term, every function was started on time, there was no concept of coming late. On a few occasions, the Qari Sahib got delayed so I recited the Surat myself to meet the time deadline. After that, an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) was issued under which the Qari Sahib was required to be there 15 minutes ahead of time.

As a routine, I arrived at the office about 15 minutes ahead of time. On the grounds of the building, I found that most officers and staff were not present at the designated time. A system of Daily Operations Review Meeting was instituted which everyone was required to attend. My personal reports requested a short margin for the start of the meeting. So the first meeting under the Chairman started at 8:15 AM, the next level at 8:30 AM, by 9:00 AM everyone was required to be in a meeting. A punctuality margin of one hour (8 to 9 AM) ensured seriousness on the job.

The current state of both punctuality and attendance is extremely poor in most government offices. There is a casual attitude,  no one shows up before 11 AM and by 12:30 PM preparations start for prayer and lunch break after which the day is over. On average official work is done for about 1 to 2 hours that too if there is a deadline or an assembly question. According to rules if an employee shows up late for work for three days, he/she has to be issued an explanation call. It is the duty of the Department Heads to ensure performance, attendance, and punctuality in which they are failing. Last year I was waiting outside the office of the Chief Settlement Commissioner (CSC) at Faridkot House.

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

The consequences of lack of monitoring

The Senior Member Board of Revenue (SMBR) arrived for his court around 10 AM. Instead of walking up to his courtroom, he decided to take a quick round of the office building. Only a skeleton staff was present. After he had left there was a big concern amongst the staff regarding punctuality, they all gathered for a possible explanation but when there was no action, it was business as usual.

When the Daewoo Company of South Korea launched their Bus Service on the newly constructed M-2 Motorway there was a lot of discipline and monitoring. Sensors were installed on the buses to watch the driver’s activities. On one of my travels, I requested the driver to drop me on the Canal as my house was nearby but he declined. Upon arrival at Kalma Chowk, he explained that the door had a sensor that counts the number of door openings.

In the early days, the drivers were focused on the road and hardly talked to the hostess but now they indulge in all kinds of extracurricular activities. As a student of management I asked the inspection ground staff at Bhera about this non-professional attitude, I was surprised by the answer; “There is no monitoring, the sensors have been removed“. No system can function without effective monitoring and supervision followed by accountability. Without the sensors, the Daewoo buses are not the same, I have personally observed the decline.

Since 1985, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its vital institutions have been in decline which has to be reversed. Without installing sensors at all strategic locations for effective monitoring the task cannot be accomplished. Several cities have launched “Safe City Projects”. Cameras have been installed on all major thoroughfares to watch the movement of people. There is a control room that continuously observes and then initiates as needed action.

Read more: Analyzing the colonial style bureaucracy of Pakistan

The urgent need of an honest bureaucracy 

A similar program has to be launched to observe the bureaucracy and Police Stations on a real-time basis to ensure timely intervention. Punctuality, attendance, and desk work can all be observed through such a system. It can be named:’Awake Bureaucracy Project’.

The CS in his opening speech talked about the welfare of the people, performance, merit, and accountability but somehow did not mention monitoring. Perhaps he is not fully aware of the ground realities of Punjab, which has the worst bureaucracy in the country.  Service delivery is totally missing. Bureaucracy stands by the bureaucracy, the seniors cover the misdeeds of the juniors. Courts, Ombudsman and Information Commission are overloaded with complaints emanating from executive abuses.

Most public records are either ill-kept or mutilated. The public is frustrated at the lack of performance and poor governance. With their long stints in power, the influence of Muslim Leagues  (PML-N, PML-Q) runs deep in the provincial capital. Merit has been missing, relief to the public is on no one’s agenda. The honeymoon of the ‘Darlings’ of the previous regimes continues unchecked. Those who stood up for merit have to suffer at the hands of the de-merited individuals who are in a position to enjoy power and perks. A neutral outsider can make a difference as he comes with an open mind, without influence and biases provided he is able to understand the ground realities.

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

He now has to live up to his words: Service Delivery, Welfare of the People, Merit, Performance, Accountability. There is some hope for the people as a fresh start has been made in the provincial administrative setup. Now a jump start is awaited.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation; email: 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.