Reforming the Bureaucracy: The Challenge for ‘Naya’ Pakistan

South Asia’s Strategic Environment
October 3, 2018
Pakistan-U.S Relations and the Fight Against Terrorism
October 9, 2018

Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs briefing on Ministry of Interior at PM Office Islamabad on August 27, 2018.

Bureaucracy underpins the efficient public service delivery. It is the second pillar, executive, of any state. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, no government has ever stressed on the need to reform bureaucracy. It is quite absurd to think of good governance without efficient civil servants. Except for a few reforms made during the era of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, which till to-date have become redundant, no other government has even found the need to take deliberate steps. As a result, the class of policy making has turned into sinecures. Unlike in developed countries, civil service is cynosure for the brightest graduates in Pakistan. This is quite evident from the fact that almost 35 LUMS’ graduates have qualified the C.S.S. examination this year. Moreover, engineers from prestigious universities like NUST and UET prefer to join this premium civil service than to excel in their own fields. Same goes for doctors.

It is quite encouraging in one aspect to see such diversity in civil service. However, it is equally disappointing to evince these bright graduates becoming sinecures after becoming civil servants.

It is quite encouraging in one aspect to see such diversity in civil service. However, it is equally disappointing to evince these bright graduates becoming sinecures after becoming civil servants. It is not that these young and inspiring people are lethargic but on the contrary, it is the monotonous system that infuses in them indolent behaviour.

A few of the weaknesses of the system include the low salary of the civil servants and denial of the entitlements that they are supposed to get. These entitlements include accommodation, a vehicle and medical facilities. Moreover, a recent move by the caretaker government against its mandate, to cancel all the allowances applicable to certain offices of civil servants have further increased the resentments of the civil servants. These allowances were at least a window of opportunities for those bureaucrats to serve with sincerity who had earned professional degrees from the prestigious international universities. Moreover, the allowances in public companies had created an atmosphere of competition and getting professional education from abroad.

Secondly, the cold war between provincial and federal bureaucracy has also surfaced after the 18th amendment. With an intention to weaken bureaucracy, Pervaiz Musharaf introduced a robust local government system. The system was so strong that it made civil servants subservient to the politicians, in fact, subservient to politically immature politicians. Even a more hard strike to bureaucracy came in the wake of abolishing of of District Management Group and creation of Provincial Management Service (P.M.S.). The latter was created in every province. The civil servants in P.M.S. were inducted through a competitive process similar to C.S.S. examination. However, after a period of three years, District Management Group was reinstated. These two acts of abolishing the District Management Group and creation of P.M.S. had consequences which no one felt at that time.

However, it’s after-shocks have started to be felt by the state in the previous years. It has led to the cold war between federal and provincial bureaucracy. Provincial bureaucracy denies the need of federal bureaucracy after the amendment. On the other hand, federal bureaucracy insists on its presence as pivotal for some influence of the centre on the provinces. Provincial bureaucracy, rightfully, complains about the poor promotional and career prospects vis-a-vis federal bureaucracy. It takes about 12-15 years for a provincial civil servant to get promoted in grade 18 vis-a vis a federal civil servant who is promoted in grade 18 after an exact time period of five years. This gruesome situation is only confined to Punjab as the other provinces have made the provincial bureaucracy to stand almost at par with the federal bureaucracy. The recent protest by provincial bureaucracy of Punjab against the PAS officers does not bode well. The smouldering grievances of Punjab bureaucracy are likely to burst one day with deleterious administrative repercussions.

Lastly, there is dire need for reform in career planning of officers. There was a time when civil servants were given exposure in different departments before assigning them important duties. However, currently, the things are running diametrically opposite. Nepotism in getting lucrative postings has inhibited the past practice of career planning. Junior officers are posted against senior grade positions. Very simple evidence to this fact is that almost all the deputy commissioners serving in the province of Punjab are of grade 18. However, the rules do not permit this dispensation. A deputy commissioner, according to the rules, should be a grade 19 officer. In case of divisional headquarters like Lahore and Gujranwala, a deputy commissioner should be of grade 20. Same goes in the police department. Almost 90 % officers enjoy erratic postings.

Lastly, another problem, nowadays, is the centralisation of powers. Before the local bodies system the districts were far more financially and administratively independent than they are today. Presence of so many entities like ‘deputy commissioner’, ‘zila nazim’, ‘mayor’, ‘politicians’, ‘police’, and pressure groups like media and lawyers in the district have resulted in administrative and, ultimately, governance issues. Owing to vague rules of administration, it has become an uphill task to fix the responsibility in case of any occurrence in a district. Every department passes the buck to the other in the aftermath of any untoward happening in a district.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has repeatedly emphasised on the need to reform bureaucracy. It is also evident in the party’s manifesto “Road to Naya Pakistan.” As Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf is about to hold the reins of government, reforms in bureaucracy should be its prime priority. These reforms range from improving salary structure; ensuring strict accountability; eradicating nepotism and back stairs influence in administration and providing equal career opportunities to a civil servant. Last but not the least, the issues between the federal and provincial bureaucracy needs to be settled forthwith, failing in which may bring the governance system to a standstill. Inability to bring reforms in bureaucracy will adversely affect the system of governance and efficient public service will remain a distant dream. Thus, it has become inevitable to bring reforms in bureaucracy.

By Salman Akbar
(The author is a PMS Officer and is serving in Services and General Administration Department Punjab)