Reforming Pakistan’s Bureaucracy | Kulsume Hai

Red tapism, proffering bribes to speed up work, dealing with babus, sending officials countless reminders, inhospitable environments, the inability to take decisions and execute plans as well as bringing closure to long-standing issues and moving on to the next challenge; a lack of direction and motivation, exploitation and excesses in the way powers are exercised, all adequately describe the functioning of public sector offices and systems in our country. Add antiquated systems and a refusal to make changes, and there you have it — the Government of Pakistan.

We all know about the inadequacies of government machinery, including those of the politicians and bureaucrats. Yet we are unable to makesignificant changes to it, due to a number of reasons, almost all related to a fear of change, as well as to the enormity of the task at hand. The primary issue is how the bureaucracy sees itself and others. Of course, we like to indulge in politics more than actually work, and the general trend in our society, which also pervades the bureaucracy, is to keep pulling down others to make ourselves look good. This informs a general trend in which we make life difficult for one another, depriving our juniors and peers of facilities, a conducive work environment and peace of mind, elements which might lead to increased motivation to work. Lack of adequate facilities and a comfortable work environment are the main reasons for a demotivated workforce. Keeping the workforce scrounging for things has been the mantra of senior bureaucrats for decades. And this is all done proudly in the name of austerity and honesty. Talk about being penny wise and pound foolish. The question is, why does being honest mean that we have to keep our government machinery deprived of even basic resources that are required for it to work? Because in Pakistan, we believe in the ‘X’ theory of management that advocates the threat of punishment to ensure the workforce’s efficiency.

The issue of identity relates to the basic philosophy that guides the civil service’s training and actions during service. Serving the public was not the priority during colonial times. Mastery was. Things have changed greatly for the bureaucracy over the years with increased public criticism, political control and greater media scrutiny of most of its actions. Bureaucrats are not demi-gods any more. Yet a kinder, more service-oriented approach is still lacking in most government offices. Pakistan still has to attain the shape and form of a welfare state, much less the mother-state envisaged in the famous poem by Aitzaz Ahsan. This state of affairs needs to change, and it relates directly to both training and work ethic.

An increase in facilities is, of course, related to more resources and more spending. This is directly related to the number of workforce that we have in the government. Do we really need so many functionaries, so many tiers? The answer is ‘no’. What we require is a leaner bureaucracy of better calibre and training, modern systems and technology, simpler rules, procedures and fewer tiers. So many in the bureaucracy directly affect political decisions, which are in turn related to the social perception of job safety and respectability attached to government service. But the benefits of a leaner bureaucracy outweigh any political mileage that can be had from unnecessary recruitments. The people are sick of this kind of governance. The question is, do we have the will to reform the system? Indulging in politics is fine if we only want to make compromises, but system reform requires persistent action.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2016.


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