Rule of law and role of officers

Nexus between bureaucracy and political bosses gave birth to corruption

After covering the bureaucracy for over a decade this correspondent realized that when institutions of the state develop their interests, development reverses and ultimately system and people have to suffer.

In weaker democracies like Pakistan, there is ‘afsar shahi’ or government of officers. There is no concept of government of the people. This piece will cover both rule of law and the role of officers in addition to their impact on people who are custodians of national wealth.

A bird’s eye view of officers shows that there are three types of officers that include ‘fit list’, ‘hit list’ and ‘shit list’. The first one consists of officers who are very competent and very thoughtful of their political masters. They have command over their job. They can read the minds of their bosses and do what they desire. They obey and serve them by using the discretionary powers and without breaking the law because they know the system very well. These officers are needed everywhere since they are good performers.

The second category consists of the officers who are totally affiliated with their political bosses. They are hit in one government and are also hit hard when the regime changes. As they are more selfish, they make money and enjoy power. They have nothing to do with service delivery and the country. They can do anything for their masters. They always have their political masters to protect them whenever they need protection against hard hits. They serve their masters well and in return enjoy good postings.

The third category, the shit list, is of the officers who are discarded by all governments because of their incompetency. They lack any quality to deliver. They are always too scared to take any decision to avoid inquiries later. They like to be sidelined. They enjoy perks and privileges for doing nothing. They always propagate their honesty. They often complain that injustice is meted out to them because of their honesty. They usually fail to get good postings.

Officers like Ahad Khan Cheema, Dr. Tauqeer Shah, Fawad Hasan Fawad, Waseem Ajmal Ch who were close to PMLN had to face wrath of anti-graft giant NAB. There is no second opinion on the competency of these officers but their affiliation nabbed them. Likewise, former principal secretaries to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, including Tahir Khurshid, Amir Jaan, Dr. Raheel Siddiqui, ex-DG Anti-Corruption Nafees Gohar, former ACS Irum Bokhari etc may be named some of such officers who served Buzdar. The incumbent government may hit some of them hard. Capt (r) Khurram Agha, Capt (r) Usman Yunus, Capt (r) Asadullah remain in in all the regimes.

There should be a commission on the pattern of the Public Service Commission to decide after induction of such officers into the services whether to retain them or not. In my opinion, such officers should be sent bag and baggage. The former government’s directory retirement policy was to get rid of such officers who are a permanent load on the national exchequer.

Though democracy and bureaucracy are hand in glove, sometimes they develop an evil nexus that compromises service delivery for personal motives. This connection is based on ‘incentives or consequences’.

The background interviews of officers, politicians, and academia show that there is a politicization of bureaucrats and bureaucratization of politicians. As there is no rule of law, one institution interferes with the affairs of the other.

The minute observation of the working of bureaucracy shows that the corrupt thrive and the honest are ignored because they go by the book. It shows that the rising political executive with the control has troubled not only bureaucracy but also their administration.

Since the inception of democracy, the political meddling in the affairs of bureaucrats is on the rise to the extent that the concept of honesty in bureaucracy stands nowhere.

As there is no implementation of the rules regarding transfers and postings of officers, the say of political bosses stands upright. Professionals uphold merit and refuse to obey the illegal orders of their bosses. They are transferred before the tenure is complete. This cements the idea that political affiliation, not professional qualification is required to make career mobilization. The only merit in the democratic setup is loyalty to the politicians in power.

If you try to search and decode the black box of relationships between politicians and officers, you will find that both usually are self-serving. They frequently ignore their prime responsibilities which are to serve the people and the state. The politicians incentivize the bureaucrats who in return manage their ‘win’. It is also true that some officers also abuse their authority.

Civil service reforms as the outgoing PTI government trumpeted are considered necessary to foster development. It could not do an iota of it, incentivized the bureaucrats with different allowances but it backfired as there was no performance and monitoring on them.

The United Kingdom, which is considered as the mother of parliamentary democracy, in 2012 decided to significantly reform its bureaucracy since its inception in the 1850s. The minister for cabinet office, who also heads the civil services, said that as the government resources diminish rapidly and permanently, so the people’s expectations of government have multiplied. The focus of reforms was to make the officers more skilled and less bureaucratic. Not only in Britain but also in the leading nations of the world the bureaucracy has gone through severe reforms. It is considered a hallmark of good governance. To achieve this, accountability of officers, their monitoring and above all their de-politicization is necessary.

This is perhaps one of the major problems with the superior bureaucracy that usually fails to come up to people’s expectations regarding service delivery. By and large, developing countries have general officers. They are not skilled and enriched with specialized qualifications and experiences. They themselves lack the faculties to perform well.

Moreover, there are innumerable and entangled rules that hinder them to resolve their issues and facilitate the public. This gives birth to draining dilemmas. Here people come across red-tapism, pendencies and above all bribery.

The need is legislation to fix and protect the officers and save them from politically motivated transfers. Though there are judicial rulings of the superior courts like the apex court judgment in the Anita Turab case, they are never implemented in letter and spirit. Investigations of this paper reflect that in some cases politicians are responsible for a lack of meritocracy or inefficiency. For example, in a province like Punjab, the chief minister is the authority to transfer and post officers of grade 19 and above. The political bosses can manipulate the merit-based postings which allegedly happened during former CM Buzdar’s time. What is wrong with grade 18 and down transfers and postings? Who stops the top hierarchy not to protecting the tenure of officers? The chief secretary, additional chief secretary and administrative secretaries and director generals are the authority and responsible to handle all the affairs of such officials and officers.

In the developed world, democracies claim to curb corruption while in the third world countries, corruption undermines democracy. In countries like Pakistan, democracy becomes a tool for corruption. The democratically elected leaders face mega corruption scandals that are enough evidence of it. Since there is a weak civil society, poor transparency and above all, little interference of private experts into public sector affairs, there is more corruption.

If you want to break the evil nexus between bureaucracy and the political elite, the need is to develop a liaison between civil society and civil administration. The overseeing role of competent, professional, skilled and honest people from the civil society should be incorporated through legislation to check what is happening and where all the public funds are utilized. Last but not the least; the directory retirement policy should be implemented in letter and spirit to get rid of a lot of officers who don’t deliver. Key performance indicators with IT-based interventions and forensic audit of the funds and above all, self-accountability would be the path to good governance.

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