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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The rotten bureaucracy of Pakistan and its love of leisure and dogs!

Dr. Farid A Malik, Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation laments bureaucracy's love of leisure and expensive dogs! He argues bureaucrats are not tired of "doing nothing" and their bogus ACR system needs to be changed.

Recently I have been exposed to three bureaucrats who either keep or breed expensive dogs which have affected their performance on the job. The episode of the missing dog of Commissioner Gujranwala is still fresh. The pet was stolen from the official princely residence of the officer in charge of the division. A massive search operation was conducted by the local administration to locate the pedigree German Shepard, whose value was reported close to Rs 0.5 million.

Finally, the dog was traced and returned to the Commissioner sahib. I must concede that I have not seen the Commissioner’s estate in Gujranwala but have the experience of visiting the equally grand Deputy Commissioners’. In Lahore, it is located in GOR on Aikman Road next to the Chief Secretary’s mansion which also has a functional home-based office unit enabling them to work out of their palatial residences. A few months back, Commissioner Bahawalpur was made OSD (Officer on Special Duty) for lack of performance, he too is a dog lover. Then I interacted with a non-performing Deputy Secretary in the Chief Secretary’s office, who also happens to be a member of the expensive ‘Kennel Club’.

Read more: Declining performance of bureaucracy in Pakistan

Pakistani bureaucracy’s need to “kill time” 

In the nineties, when I returned home after completing my higher education in the US, I had a unique experience. I was in a meeting with a senior bank official in his office in Bank Square. Suddenly the door opened and in walked a vendor selling snacks (chickpeas). The Vice President signaled Rs 2; the equivalent amount of channas were left on the table wrapped in used paper. Barely after he had left, in walked the newspaperman, while I was perturbed by these intrusions, the banker remained unfazed as it was his daily routine.

At the end of the meeting, I complained about these unnecessary interferences in official work. His answer surprised me, “We are over staffed, have little work to do, that is how we kill time”. In nationalized banks, killing time was a problem that was addressed by interacting with the mobile salesmen. In order to improve their performance, the banks were then privatized. Staff rationalization was carried out, now the entry into the offices is regulated, rendering most vendors out of job. No ‘channas’ to eat or newspapers to read. Work ethics have drastically changed, everyone has to show up on time and perform their assigned duties. Killing time is no longer an option.

Read more: Is a bloated bureaucracy responsible for Pakistan’s fiscal deficit?

Pakistani bureaucracy’s ACR system is bogus

While the banks are back on track, unfortunately, the bureaucracy is not. Killing time remains their biggest challenge as they are least interested in providing relief to the public. Letters, complaints are not accepted in the first place, if acceptance is forced, then there is no reply or action. Some forums of relief (Ombudsman, Right to Information Commission) have been created but they remain bogged down due to the non-cooperation of departments. In the West, it is widely believed that a dog is man’s best friend. When there is no work to be done, friends come to the rescue.

The trend of keeping and breeding dogs is on the rise in the bureaucracy. It has become a very lucrative past time. The pandemic needs to be investigated as it is affecting the performance of officers. Pets should be included in the declaration of assets as their value can run into the millions. Very soon money trials may be required to justify their ownership. If nothing else, the job performance of the three senior bureaucrats I have highlighted should be investigated as the ACR (Annual Confidential Report) system is totally bogus. Recently the Prime Minister (PM) has indicated his desire to seek public input in the evaluation of the performance of officers. It is a good idea but as always it will not see the light of day due to opposition from the bureaucracy.

My friend Tasneem Noorani, the able senior bureaucrat has written about his institution. According to him, the bureaucracy consists of both horses and donkeys. In order to create institutional harmony, they go through a unified training program. While the donkeys are upgraded to mules the horses are downgraded and feel frustrated on the job. Due to their focus and diligence, the mules rise in the system; the horses either leave or are sidelined due to their lack of interest in routine work.

Read more: How bureaucracy of Pakistan could have reformed?

Bureaucrats: Are you not tired of doing nothing?  

In other words, eventually, the mules run the show. Naturally with no horses in the arena, performance suffers. There was a time in the land of the pure when bureaucrats were able and honest and sensitive to the needs of the people. Public complaints were addressed and expeditiously resolved. Letters were acknowledged and replied but not any longer. Most bureaucrats are out of touch with ground realities with total disregard for the welfare of the masses they are required to serve.

In my student days at the University of Arizona in Tucson, we had a technician called Dick who was a work shirker. To get any help we had to first find him. To kill time he would usually sleep behind library cupboards. As he was a favorite of the Head of Department (HOD), his job was guaranteed. Once a frustrated graduate student left a note on his desk saying, “Dick aren’t you tired of doing nothing”. On reading the note he was furious, he went running to the office of HOD but the note did reveal his lack of performance and the total dissatisfaction of the students he was meant to serve.

Read more: Pakistan’s bureaucracy needs overhaul

It proved to be the beginning of the end for him. Soon after I had finished my program, I came to know that he was let go. Killing time on the job is disastrous both for the individual and the organization one is meant to serve. Being a dog lover myself, I am all for pets but not at the cost of professional duties. People have to be served first. This trend of caring and breeding expensive canines by the bureaucracy has to be curbed. My parting words for my bureaucrat friends both horses and mules are; “Aren’t you tired of doing nothing”.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished 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.