In every major office of the land, there is a diary section. It is through this process that the daily activities of individuals and departments are monitored. The following powerful offices, Prime Minister (PM), Chief Minister (CM), Principal Secretary (PSPM), Chief Secretary, have well-organized departments for handling both incoming and outgoing correspondence. Every letter is received with a diary entry.
In the past, every communication was first acknowledged and then acted upon with intimation to the sender but not anymore. It is a bottomless pit called ‘Kuh Khata’ in Punjabi, what goes in disappears never to be seen or heard again. I have a long list of letters duly received by all these offices which remain unattended.
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What good are these diaries if there is no follow-through action?
A few months back I was sitting in the office of SAPM (Special Assistant to the Prime Minister) who was re-negotiating the Power Purchase Agreements with the IPPs (Independent Power Producers). He was getting calls from the PM Secretariat for the finalized draft while the Secretary’s office insisted that it had been dispatched. Finally, I suggested to the SAPM’s assistant to go and check the outgoing diary.
To everyone’s surprise, there was no entry, a few minutes later the file was hand-delivered. The diary came to the rescue. While some diaries gained a lot of notoriety, like the recently published ‘Ayub Diaries’ or ‘Lady Diana Diaries’ but these public diaries in important government offices have been relegated to the dust bins of the offices of the powerful who rule over us.
In the decade of the seventies, the University of California at Santa Barbara had a Project Pakistan program under which American students visited Pakistan to spend time with the local families. During one of these visits, I had the chance of meeting the US Consulate General in Lahore. He was an interesting individual, knew the city more than I did. As a Coin Collector, he walked through the streets to decipher his collection. He also carried a small pocket diary in which he noted his daily activities.
It was indeed very efficient was to operate. In 1976 when I was elected President of the departmental Student’s Union, I had to perform multiple tasks. In those days, it was normal for students leaders to miss classes and usually did not do well in academics. To regulate my daily activities I started the use of a small diary. It worked so well for me that it became a regular feature in my life. From that time till today the activity has continued. It was really helpful in the conduct of my official business as well, when all other record was unavailable my personal diary came to the rescue. It was my information, which I kept and used to my advantage.
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The importance of monitoring daily actions
If nothing else the PM, CM, PSPM, CS review these diaries on a regular basis, governance can be greatly improved. I am not in favor of the online portals as the record-keeping is not very authentic. As a nation, we take signatures very seriously. Businessmen usually stand by their words but government officials seldom do as they manage to get away whereas the markets do not allow such behavior. Credibility is taken very seriously in business, verbal agreements have to be honored.
Personally, I felt a decline in the ‘Diary System’ during the tenure of the Plastic PM Shaukat Aziz who had many faces. Public contact was not his forte. He was only interested in impressing his boss, not the people he was required to serve. Relatively the system worked much better during the tenures of Benazir and Nawaz but not after that. Either the entire system should be reactivated or disbanded to be replaced by a more people-centric mechanism like the ‘Citizen’s Desk’ or ‘Complaint Cells’.
People need to be heard, currently, they have lost all contact with the rulers as their communications are blocked by the bureaucracy. Their representatives work in a vacuum with a poor understanding of ground realities. The bureaucracy hides behind files and paperwork. Information Commissions and Ombudsman’s Offices are overloaded with complaints emanating from executive abuse.
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The incompetent bureaucracy
Since independence, the royal colonial bureaucracy has been able to dodge all attempts at accountability. The masses are still considered to be subjects and beneficiaries of the state, not its customers. In quality management the focus shifts on customer satisfaction. In the decade of the nineties, ISO 9000 Quality Management System was implemented across the world which brought much-needed organizational improvements.
Emphasis was on record and documentation. Customer complaints had to be recorded and then addressed. In Management Reviews follow-up remedial action and its effectiveness were discussed. The concept of ‘Customer Orientation’ has widespread implications. Customers are both internal and external. Students are the customers of a library who must be served otherwise it becomes an archive to store books. Over the years the ‘Brown Sahib’ has gotten away with inefficiency and lack of service.
In Punjab, after a very long time, the CM and CS have decided to focus on service delivery to the public for which the ‘Diary’ is the starting point. I urge the PM, CM, PSPM and the CS to get in touch with this most important and vital instrument of governance before it is too late and the water crosses the bridge. Dictators usually complain of ignorance about public sentiments after their fall. Some of them decide to publish their diaries to seek vindication but by then it is already too late.
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A ‘Diary’ is a living document that can better serve the alive than the dead, use it now to keep yourself current. In the decades of the seventies and eighties, the American Express card was advertised as your travel companion, the slogan was: “Don’t leave home without it”. For the ‘Diary’ it should be: “Don’t leave office without it”.
The writer is an Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.