Ever since the collapse of the ‘Diary System’ in government offices, the files have stopped moving. While the movement is life, stagnation is death. The entire system of governance is seriously affected by this lack of movement. During the Bhutto regime in the seventies, files had to move. The Prime Minister worked late hours, he personally read the files and issued orders.
Every ministry had a night section officer on duty who was responsible for sending the required file/information to the PM Secretariat. Most files were returned within 24 hours as the PM burnt the midnight oil. In a world driven by technology, timely decisions are important otherwise they lose their significance.
An excerpt from the past
There was a time in the land of the pure when record-keeping was taken very seriously. Records were well kept and regularly updated. The first step towards misgovernance was to attack the record rooms. The party in power organized record infernos to get away with their misdeeds.
The centuries-old record of the Deputy Commissioner’s office was set ablaze in Lahore followed by a fire at the LDA Plaza where human lives were also lost. Then one of the out-of-turn favorite Chief Secretary (CS) decided to expand his office in the Civil Secretariat, ancient record was stored around the grave of Anarkali located nearby. Poor Anarkali now has to put up with this abandoned but important record of the Province.
Kamran Ali Afzal has taken over as the new CS. Hopefully, he will operate from his designated office in the Secretariat and not hide in the home office on Aikman Road where the public has limited access. He may even consider providing some relief to poor Anarkali by moving the files to an archive allowing her to rest in peace. The Inspector General (IG) has moved out, it is now called the old IG block which has been allocated to the Mines Department. The Law Department is quite active there while the Education has been bifurcated into school and higher education departments.
I have had the chance of interacting with most of these offices located there. The office of the CS has failed to impress me as nothing moves there. Initially their ‘Dairy Section’ is reluctant to accept letters but even after receiving them, there is hardly any follow-up action. If and when I get a chance to meet the new CS, I will personally hand him over the copies of all my letters duly received by his office and not acted upon, clearly indicating poor movement of files.
Till today most government work is done on files
Paperwork plays a dominant role. Those citizens like me who have organized records pose the biggest threat to the bureaucracy to perform otherwise they are able to dodge work. They even don’t follow their own laid down procedures, follow-up with other departments is non-existent. The applicant is required to keep track of his file and work otherwise it does not move. For verification of property records, the Board of Revenue (BOR) has enforced a cumbersome procedure since 2014. After receiving the written request the department instructs the ‘Patwari’ for possession report which never comes.
On inquiry, I was told to pursue the case myself as the department had no control over the ‘Patwari’. On my insistence that it was their requirement, reminders were sent Dr but with no results. Finally, I approached the Commissioner who then issued a show-cause notice for the inordinate delay and the report came. Technically it was the duty of BOR to follow up and complete their requirements by moving the files but they never do. Inter-departmental coordination does not exist, the public is required to run from pillar to post to get the job done.
Revival of the ‘Diary System’ with close monitoring and movement of files can result in measurable improvements. Bureaucracy operates through the files which have to be reviewed at the top to ensure their credibility. The current fee for all approaches is disastrous. Governance demands good paperwork and expeditious file movement in an environment of openness and transparency. The Department Heads must review their incoming and outgoing diaries on a regular basis to track the movement of paperwork.
The importance of safekeeping a record room
The ‘Record Rooms’ have to be revived and made functional to ensure the safekeeping of vital papers. Fireproofing should also be considered to protect the record from arson which has been regularly used to erase the evidence. Bhutto delivered good governance by moving the files. In the Zia Dark ages, the entire process was stalled. Files were received by the President’s house but never sent back. Finally, when he was gone, a room full of files was discovered which were then returned to the respective departments.
The PM and CM secretariats have a major role in providing the much-needed relief to the public which can only be done by expeditious movement of files where all decisions are arrived at. Those who control the paperwork decide the level of governance. Unfortunately in the land of the pure, the elected representatives lack the power of the pen.
The writer is an Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.