Bureaucracy struggling to maintain impartiality

The cash-strapped country and crisis-ridden bureaucracy are overshadowed by the politically motivated moves of those who want to rule at every cost.

The present bureaucracy of the country has become a copy of its halcyon past. Those who used to exercise the highest intellect, unbiased attitude and never compromised their personal and financial integrity have been depleted or are very rare amongst ranks.

There is nepotism, corruption, inefficiency and above all, there is a very poor concept of accountability. Prioritizing the political mileage instead of administrative and public-oriented tasks, the officers have become more loyal to the political bosses than to the system or state.

The political parties that frequently ruled the country have badly shaken the very basis of upright and honest officers who were sidelined or ignored altogether.

Indian Prime Minister Modi had in the parliament expressed his ire against his bureaucracy. He called it sacred. He had gone to the extent to say that Indian growth has become hostage to the whims of Indian officers. What prompted Modi’s outburst at the Babus was reports generated by different think tanks that country’s bureaucracy was a major reason for inverse growth. The bureaucrats have their own version to defend themselves and lament the politicians.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan had too ignored merit while posting officers. Buzdar-led administration, as alleged, had been doing ‘money motivated movements’ among officers.

PM Shahbaz Sharif, on contrary, has the mindset to run the affairs through his like-minded and blue-eyed bureaucrats. He does pick and choose a handful of those he thought would remain subservient to his commands than those who go by the book. Right from former principal secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad to incumbent Dr. Tauqir Shah, he promoted Ahad Khan Cheema, Imdadullah Bosal etc. This decades-long practice of ruling through Babus has dumped the growth of sincere leadership in the country.

For bureaucracy, it has become very difficult to keep its commitment, continue impartiality and shed the colonial mindset.

Weber had rightly observed if the best competitors are inducted, they can guarantee the best outcomes. But in the Pakistani context, only the best memory masters are inducted in superior services. There are no other criteria. So is the bleak outcome.

No bureaucracy, as a principle, can deliver unless democracy does. As of today, there is not a colonial dictatorship or regime of the East India Company. However, the crooked officers enjoy the untrammeled authority and politicians give birth to a corrupt and compromised democracy. The evil nexus between the two, in many cases, has become deep-rooted and institutionalized.

There is very poor control over bureaucracy in third-world countries including Pakistan. This gives rise to misuse of power. The internal accountability of services has lost its glory.

Post-partition bureaucracy carried the colonial legacy and can be called as the sine qua non of British Rule in the subcontinent. Its objective was to remain sincere to the system and the state. Today things have gone in quite the opposite direction.

There is much political interference in the administrative affairs of the government. Those officers who challenge the illegal orders of the political executive have to face consequences. They are frequently transferred from one place to the other. This rising political trend de-motivates the lower bureaucracy to take a stand on principles.

The need is to do a new experiment of utilizing the expertise of the skilled or technocrats in the public sector. An Indian Reforms Commission had pointed out in 1970 that streamlining bureaucracy may consist of land revenue administration, the exercise of magisterial functions and regulatory work in fields. In the Pakistani context, more specialized instead of generalized; officers are needed to break inertia in the system.

Many bureaucrats have become outmoded in the changing world where information technology has become central. The bureaucracy, in general, supports the status quo and creates a counter-change environment.

When we discuss good governance and compare the bureaucracy of the Scandinavian countries, Singapore and British models, we see that competent people don’t join the civil services only for compensation. They can get it anywhere in the business, multinationals, or the corporate sector.

When they join services to earn the bread, they compromise their duties and the result is many top state institutions become “caged parrots”. Instead of advising others, they needed guidance.

As I have been reporting the bureaucratic circles for over a decade I have realized that after passing through the competitive examination, the only bigger examination in service is, to get a lucrative position in the town the officer’s family resides. Second, the officers usually show their willingness to acquiesce to political pressure for narrow gains. They have even to put the book aside to escape from politically motivated frequent transfers.

When PTI came to power it promised to bring civil service reforms but nothing fertile could be done. To my opinion, there should be a bureaucratic board to recommend transfers and postings after following all the policy guidelines so that the officer could stay and perform at a specific station impeccably. At present, this all is done on the personal whims of the chief executive.

Imran Khan’s incapability besides introducing much-trumpeted civil service reforms, he also unjustifiably delayed convening High Power Board (HPB) to promote those he himself had interviewed to the highest grade of 22. This also raises questions about his focus on the issues. Now, he can complain or criticize or condemn; as he is not in the driving seat. In the HPB which was held after the change of guards, his government had planned to send some officers packing. However, the things, as an affectee officer said, have gone upside down. Those who were honest and competent with high financial and administrative integrity were ignored while all others were considered. The more an officer is financially smart, the greater are his chances to be promoted and protected. The trickle-down effect of such manipulations on the lower level shows that the only guts needed to rise to the highest echelons were not merit but manipulation. The upcoming board will further recommend the promotions of those who could not make their way to grade 22, as the source disclosed.

The amendments in relevant laws like the National Accountability Bureau and regarding elections also push the principles to the wall. The outgoing party should know that all the amendments regarding postings and promotions of civil and police officers in the key slots will be made before the new general elections are announced. As PTI has left the house open to legislate whatever it wanted. It has also to suffer appointments of the new chairman of NAB, members of the election commission and many more.

There is news that Fawad Hasan Fawad who remained behind bars in the assets beyond means case in a NAB reference is among those likely to be pitched for the top slot as the chairman of NAB. Imdadullah Bosal who remained Principal Secretary with Shehbaz Sharif during his tenure as the Chief Minister Punjab, despite having NAB inquiry against him, was promoted out of turn to BS-22 and just a few days after his promotion, he was elevated as Federal Secretary Industries while a bureaucrat eight years senior to him, was made OSD.

The bureaucracy should rather protect it from politically motivated gains and save itself as an institution otherwise its very existence in the system will be a question mark. Today people question, they know the reality and there will be accountability by the taxpayers sooner or later. Moreover, the political executive should also avoid misusing the state machinery for their short-term goals. It may create unrest among the new generation that is silently observing what is happening in the power corridors. The founder of Pakistan M A Jinnah had envisaged an efficient civil service for the country as he addressed to the civil servants. Youm-e-Takbeer reiterates protection from external threats but the hollow and flawed system within raises many questions.

There is news that former Secretary Schools Imran Sikandar Baloch, who was a couple of days ago, transferred and posted as Commissioner Faisalabad, didn’t join. Officers usually don’t like to serve there owing to multiple factors including political maneuvering, as a senior police officer had shared with me. There is also news that almost all the Murree Tragedy-related officers held responsible for the sad happening have been restored and posted.

Javed Iqbal is a special correspondent covering the Punjab government with a particular focus on bureaucracy. He has unearthed a number of mega scams while working with leading media houses. He tweets @javedjahangiri and can be reached at javediqbal344@gmail.com.

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