Civil service rules
THE new Civil Servants (Efficiency & Discipline) Rules, 2020, recently approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan, are a significant improvement over the existing ones as they provide for a more transparent process of internal accountability of the civil bureaucracy within a certain timeframe. One can assume that the new rules would ensure that delinquent bureaucrats will not get away with misconduct or unscrupulous actions of any kind if found guilty after an internal inquiry, and that they are penalised in proportion to their guilt. The new rules give the civil servants a fair opportunity to be heard and prove their innocence though it remains unclear if a bureaucrat would be allowed to keep his/ her job during investigation. The effective, transparent and fair application of these rules and the timely resolution of cases should limit the space for anti-corruption agencies that are often accused of building unfounded cases against government servants and of harassing them. This would address a major complaint of the bureaucracy and allow it to work with peace of mind.
The rules have been designed under the government’s policy of institutional reforms to improve the performance of bureaucracy and state institutions. The idea behind the current reform effort — as with several similar exercises over the last six decades or more — is to make bureaucracy more effective in service delivery. It is commonly perceived that politicisation and corruption in the civil service has seriously undermined the country’s socioeconomic progress at the cost of public service delivery and damaged the credibility of the state and its institutions. Sadly, past efforts to restructure the civil service fell apart mainly because of ineffective strategies and inadequate homework to push through the reforms. Political governments and military regimes in the country have designed reforms to suit their own short-term agendas and exert greater control over civil servants rather than make the latter more responsive to public needs through effective governance.
More importantly, all past efforts to reform the civil service have focused on reorganising the bureaucracy without dismantling its old colonial structure, which has mostly served the country’s political and military elite. The present attempt does not appear to be any different. Although the institutional reforms committee headed by the prime minister’s adviser, Dr Ishrat Husain, has suggested a raft of measures including directory retirement rules, performance contracts, new promotion criteria, etc in the last few months, these may not see an overall turnaround unless bureaucratic institutions are rolled over upside down in a complete revamp. That will depend on the government’s intentions to deliver on its promise and devolve administrative, political and other powers to the grassroots. Without true decentralisation of powers, it would be naïve to expect the bureaucracy to be prepared to serve the people with sincerity and respond efficiently to their needs.
THE National Accountability Bureau drew the ire of the Supreme Court this week because of its repeated 90-day physical remand of those under investigation. The court was critical of the bureau’s disturbing practice of detaining the same suspects for 90 days by filing multiple references against them. While the court clarified that it did not object to NAB’s authority to detain a suspect once, it termed the trend of continuous custody as cruel and unjust.
That the judiciary has once again reprimanded NAB for its prolonged detention of under-investigation individuals should serve as a serious wake-up call for the bureau, whose reputation as an intimidating behemoth is only growing.
Earlier this year, Justice Maqbool Baqar while granting bail to former railways minister and PML-N stalwart Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Khawaja Suleman Rafiq, too, had cautioned the bureau when he observed that the means, process and mechanism of curbing corruption must be within the parameters of the law. The judgement had noted that the arrest of an individual is a grave matter but the “capricious exercise of the power to arrest had deleterious consequences and, therefore, needed to be exercised with care, caution and sensitivity”. The power of arrest should not be deployed as a tool of oppression and harassment, the judgement had emphasised.
Unfortunately, the fundamental tenet of criminal jurisprudence — which maintains that a person is innocent until proven guilty — appears to be ignored in these protracted detentions. Moreover, it seems that in its haste to detain and prosecute, NAB has forgotten that these are white-collar crimes and not cases of terrorism or murder.
The bureau should pay heed to the apex court’s warnings, and adjust its operations in a way that respects the liberty of the individual being investigated. Detaining an individual in one case, locking them away in NAB custody and then framing multiple cases against them to extend that detention is harassment. In far too many cases now, individuals under investigation have spent months — even years — in detention. In the case of Ahad Cheema, for instance, the accused had been in jail for 23 months with no reference filed against him. This is unconscionable, and can take a huge psychological toll on the suspect with no redress or compensation from the bureau. The power of arrest cannot be used as a tool of oppression, and the bureau must respect the apex court’s sound observations on the matter.
New Zealand tour
THE growing restrictions imposed by New Zealand authorities on Pakistan’s troubled cricket squad continues to raise concerns about the fate of the tour. As many as 10 Covid-19 cases and protocol violations by the visiting squad have prevented the Pakistan team from training in managed isolation in Christchurch. The situation has not only caused deep national embarrassment and hindered Pakistan’s preparations for the challenging series, it has thrown the entire itinerary into disarray. Babar Azam’s men were scheduled to play a four-day game starting Dec 10 against New Zealand ‘A’ upon completing the isolation period, but were compelled to opt for a series of intra-squad matches due to the prevailing circumstances. However, even that permission has now been denied to the Pakistan camp, and as things stand, all Pakistani players and officials are expected to remain in their own rooms until the next training exemption comes into force. The decision is a major setback to the team which is scheduled to begin a three-game Twenty20 International series against New Zealand on Dec 18 and a two-match Test series on Dec 26.
Though all members of the Pakistan squad had tested negative on four occasions prior to the team’s departure from Lahore last month, it appears that the PCB did not ensure strict quarantine conditions for the players and other squad members at home. Besides, sending the 53-member contingent on a commercial flight might have also exposed the men to possible infection on the aircraft. A chartered flight would have been a safer option. Even until a few days before the squad was to depart for New Zealand, a number of players continued to feature in the Quaid Trophy matches. No Covid-19 protocols were imposed. This was in contrast to Pakistan’s tour of England in July-August when the players had to self-isolate at home. The situation has to be tackled prudently to salvage the tour, even if it means altering the schedule, so that there’s no further damage to the reputation of Pakistan cricket.