Bureaucrats under fire
THE Prime Minister’s Office has issued show-cause notices to bureaucrats in Punjab who have been judged as underperforming in their official duties. These have originated from their apparently lacklustre response or inaction towards public complaints registered on the Pakistan Citizen’s Portal. This is aimed at improving service delivery by public officials and ensuring accountability for those who are less responsive in their performance.
The spirit of the action by the Prime Minister’s Office may be justified but the methodology leaves a lot to be desired. There are deep-seated reasons for the bureaucracy’s shoddy performance and the government must take a comprehensive view of this problem instead of superficial steps like issuing show-cause notices.
The reform programme of the bureaucracy has produced little of substance so far. It is common knowledge that the accountability process unleashed on the bureaucracy by NAB has had a debilitating impact on how bureaucrats are now approaching their assignments. Everyone is fearful of the consequences of official actions, and no one is willing to take decisions that can lead to NAB investigations. Recent events have shown that NAB has opened cases against bureaucrats on matters that were once considered routine. Incarceration of officials, including retired bureaucrats, by NAB has sent a wave of fear through officialdom and the bureaucracy is now averse to showing any initiative.
The government needs to address this problem before it can start demanding a higher level of performance from the bureaucracy. In Punjab, the problem is even more acute because the political leadership has not been able to provide the vision and supervision that can channelise the bureaucracy to produce results. An added problem has been the fact that Punjab is perceived to be heavily influenced by Islamabad in its decision-making.
One example of this is that the show-cause letters have emanated from the Prime Minister’s Office instead of the Punjab Chief Minister’s Office. Such a situation has complicated matters for the bureaucracy because they know that while they report to the chief minister, their decision-maker sits in Islamabad. This sends a wrong signal to officialdom, and therefore bureaucrats look towards Islamabad instead of Lahore. Such a mode of governance under the PTI government has not produced the desired results in Punjab.
While it is important that the Prime Minister’s Office also keep a check on the performance of the civil servants, it would be far more advisable for the centre to empower the Punjab government in order for it to get the bureaucrats to perform at the desired level. Governance has to coalesce around defined and identifiable targets that are achieved through focused implementation driven by close supervision. In the present situation, such governance does not seem to be visible in Punjab. The prime minister should focus on the root causes of the bureaucracy’s lack of performance.
A city adrift
IT is difficult to disagree with Planning Minister Asad Umar’s criticism of the Sindh government’s neglect of Karachi, particularly the emaciated state of the megalopolis’s local bodies system. Speaking in the Sindh capital on Sunday, Mr Umar said Karachi “has not been given its rights”, adding that despite the port city’s hefty contribution to the national exchequer, its infrastructure, such as the firefighting system, was in tatters. Of course, Karachi’s destruction has been several years in the making, and the slow decline has only accelerated during the PPP’s over decade-long rule in Sindh. It should be noted that the MQM, which at one time ruled urban Sindh with an iron fist, also did little to permanently address the problems of the metropolis while the PTI, which won the most National Assembly seats from the city during the last general elections, has also done little for Karachi, other than issue statements. The fact is that the political class as a whole has been guilty of neglecting Karachi while using the megacity to grab votes and sit comfortably in the national and provincial assemblies, even as the city’s infrastructure crumbles.
When the MQM was in control, it stuffed loyalists in the water board and other local government bodies, with the result that today these institutions are close to collapse. Moreover, the dark art of ‘china cutting’ — as grabbing amenity plots and divvying them up for huge profits is colloquially known — was mastered under the Muttahida’s watch. Of course, neglect of the city under PPP rule has hit a new nadir, with the provincial government hogging nearly all municipal powers that should rightfully belong to the KMC and the elected mayor. But it is not just Karachi; Hyderabad, Larkana and Sukkur too are facing similar crises where urban decay is concerned, though the PPP insists it has worked wonders in Sindh. The fact is that Karachi — and the rest of urban Sindh — cannot prosper until elected LG systems are put in place, answerable to voters at the local level. Launching new projects such as expressways and bridges in Karachi and labelling this progress, as the PPP is prone to doing, will not work unless the city has a workable solid waste disposal system along with an undisrupted water supply and a working sewage disposal system, as well as functioning public transport. Instead of playing politics, all parties must work on new legislation that can empower Sindh’s local bodies.