Public Service Dilemma in Pakistan By Muhammad Yahya

“There are only three conditions necessary for a country to be at peace: enough arms, enough food and the trust of the common people,” said Confucius with a charming smile. When asked which one should be removed first if he had to do without one of these, he replied, ‘Give up arms.’ And to get rid of another one, he said, ‘Give up food.’ He argued that the most terrible thing is when a country’s citizens give up on their nation.
The country’s 55 million people (almost 50 percent of the registered voters) have demonstrated their lack of confidence in public services by not participating in the recent elections. The biggest challenge for the new government is to take unpopular decisions to restore the voters’ confidence in government departments.
Historically, our state institutions have not been allowed to evolve into viable organs of productive governance. In their frenzy to wield power and glory, the politicians in power have been obsessed with their impractical manifestos. Lack of political acumen to implement national policies has also marred the effectiveness of government organisations to serve basic needs, foster national security and establish a viable foreign policy for the country. This has resulted in the creation of policy and administrative vacuums in the executive which had to be filled by other state actors and civil society.
Unfortunately, the general public has conveniently accepted this style of bureaucracy as “conventional wisdom” which means ideas that are widely esteemed for their acceptability.
The previous two ‘democratic’ governments have been predominantly engaged in focusing on personal development and self-glorification by micromanaging the state institutions. This led to the creation of a legacy of lopsided development evident in the form of localised infrastructure for appeasing their voters.
On the other hand, mismanagement of constitutional provisions has adversely affected good governance in Pakistan. After the promulgation of the 18th Amendment, key functions of 17 Federal ministries were transferred to the provinces. These include Agriculture, Education, Environment, and Health. However, benefits of devolution could not be transferred to the people due to inconsistent administrative and financial policies at the federal level and problems of ability on the provincial level.
Human development has been persistently neglected due to collaborative mismanagement by politicians and the executive. Except for superficial interventions, no concrete steps have been taken to improve the state of education and training.
On the other hand, politicisation of government functionaries has led to unethical behaviour while promoting envy and discontent among neglected employees. Political selectivity in assigning ‘high profile’ postings with unbridled discretionary powers have created unaccountable pockets of authorities without responsibilities.
In Plato’s ‘Republic’, a question is raised whether any man could resist the temptation of performing any act without being known or discovered. It has been argued that morality is only a social construction, the source of which is the desire to maintain one’s reputation for virtue and justice. Hence, if that sanction were removed, one’s moral character would evaporate. Lack lustre performance and wrongdoings prevail in the public service. This is because mostly, the employees don’t find anyone watching their performance and behaviour. There is lack of effective performance controls and the symbolically reported KPIs are not evaluated for achievement of organisational objectives. Articles 29-40 of the Constitution prescribe a comprehensive policy for checks and balances of state institutions through monitoring of the “Principals of Policy”.
Every year, a report on the observance and implementation of the Principles, is required to be laid before the assemblies, for discussion. However, a cursory glance on the last report of the Federal Government which was apparently issued for 2012-2013, shows a reporting quality that doesn’t merit any meaningful discussion in the Parliament. Besides, the ministries do not indicate their primary objectives and performance indicators mainly relate to normal operations.
In a working environment shorn of effective checks and balances, wastage and misuse of public resources continue undeterred. From exorbitant budgeting to misuse of perks and privileges, unhindered and institutionalised leakages of government spending contribute to budget deficit in addition to financial mismanagement. As a typical example, majority of grade 20 to 22 officers’ avail illegitimate use of vehicles despite enjoying a hefty monetisation of transport facilities. Exemplary action in this area can serve as a starter for controlling other leakages in the system.
Despite dismal conditions in public service delivery, there are signs of hope for the future. There has been a marked improvement in overall peace and internal security in the country. Besides, the role of judiciary and accountability institutions has assumed a level of significance that can help in deterring corrupt tendencies in the future. We have a new government with a firm resolve to address the nation’s critical problems.
The Government therefore needs to take urgent measures to resolve the emergent problems of water management, human development, security, and energy. However, no action will be productive without complete restructuring and reform of the civil service.
The previous two governments have been engaged in personal development and self-glorification by micromanaging the state institutions
While Pakistan’s Penal Code, Prevention of Corruption Act and the National Accountability Ordinance are the main regulations to combat corruption, there is a Presidential instruction issued on 25-9-1978 which gives a very effective way to control corruption. The directives require every head of the department to be answerable for proven charges of corruption within the area of its administrative jurisdiction. This is based on the principle that corruption prevails in a department if its Head is personally corrupt or is so inefficient that he is unable to control it. It has therefore been ordained that “such a Head of Department cannot be retained in service”. This regulation should be made part of the Efficiency & Discipline Rules which also need to be repealed for effectiveness and timeliness of disciplinary cases.
World Bank assisted financial reforms were introduced through a countrywide project in the 1990s. However, despite spending millions of dollars on a hi-fi software for running traditional mode of operations, key targets of the reform package could not be achieved. Partial implementation of fiscal management modules and discord between Finance Division and CGA organisation, have been the main factors behind failure of this gigantic ERP project of the country. Instead of banking on foreign aid, indigenised system of performance budgeting coupled with locally assembled software can help in improving the country’s financial management dilemma.
Executive is the main driving force behind overall governance of the country. Besides having the mandate to execute and enforce the rule of law, it has the ability to support legislature in policy formulation and to ensure rational implementation of political decisions. It can also relieve judiciary from its workload substantively simply by focusing on its inherent function of contributing to social justice.
The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Audit & Accounts Service
Published in Daily Times, August 8th 2018.

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