The Way Forward | Syed Saadat

AROUND the world, technology has taken governance to new levels, but the bureaucracy in Pakistan is constricted to writing on the files doing the rounds in their office.

Technology has been introduced neither in the monitoring of government projects nor in the evaluation of officials’ performance. Even in this day and age, performance evaluation remains at the discretion of individuals. Mostly, they are generic in nature and hardly separate the wheat from the chaff, although 2015 was marked by some noteworthy e-governance initiatives in Pakistan.

Punjab completed a major initiative in the computerisation of land records with funding of Rs17.5 billion provided by the World Bank. The land record management information system was finally running in 2015. The Sindh government also made major progress in the task of computerisation of land records by funding a Rs4.9bn project. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa initiated the process from Mardan; it is due to be completed for the whole province by 2017.

The change will not be seamless as embracing technology takes time and perseverance. There will be problems — for instance, litigation related to land records increased in Mardan, Attock and Rawalpindi divisions post-computerisation. That can be partly attributed to haphazard implementation and largely to the desire of revenue officials dealing with land transfer (patwaris) to reject the new system as their leverage in land transfers has been minimised. The computer operator at the tehsil centres would be conveniently accessible and the record can be acquired by landowners in a matter of minutes, that too without greasing palms.

Technology can help abolish the VIP culture.

The District Performance Management Framework (DPMF) is another major initiative launched by the KP government in 2015. The system aims to monitor online the performance of the district administration in the province. The general public can lodge complaints via web and through mobile app and once a complaint is lodged, a deputy commissioner has 15 days to resolve it; in case of failure it will have to be dealt with by the divisional commissioner within a week. And if the commissioner fails to resolve it, this issue will be looked into by the chief secretary’s office.

Simple and swift results — this is what technology can achieve. All we need to abolish the VIP culture is to implement such systems properly as in that case every complainant would become a VIP.

Furthermore, the complaint cell can also be used to look into the progress of civil servants working in the district administration, thus tying transfers and postings to performance alone. In due course, annual performance evaluation of government officials can be linked to the system as well, as it would provide a tangible indicator of officials’ performance.

Even the assessment of what kind of functions within a district need greater budgetary allocation would be a by-product of such a system. Though the police is not yet in the ambit of this system, it is only a matter of time before the force is included.

Punjab police recently introduced a system of online complaints but its execution seems a little obsolete. An online portal which could be logged into and accessed by police officers on a daily basis to check any complaints made in their jurisdiction would be more efficient as compared to hiring civilian staff to receive complaints via phone calls and texts, and then directing those to the relevant officials. The greater the number of individuals in the loop, the lower the efficacy. It is nevertheless a good beginning.

There is a need to introduce similar systems for various departments across the country. The judiciary can also introduce such a system for the lower courts. Most cases take an eternity to reach a conclusion, despite the directives of the Supreme Court to process cases within a specific time frame. The judges of the lower courts tend to schedule cases according to their own free will and many times a hearing is deferred to a new date, as if the time and commitments of the contending parties do not matter. The victims are usually left with no option but to look for rewards in the afterlife.

The potential that online performance monitoring systems offer is endless, but it would take a lot of personal interest and initiative to tap it. It is very easy for senior members of the judiciary to issue statements in conferences on how our judicial system has failed the masses. But reform is not so simple.

Lastly, the most common argument presented against e-governance in Pakistan is that the general public is not educated enough to benefit from such initiatives. But what we forget is that there was a time when even mobile phones were considered too ‘technologically advanced’ for our masses. The media must play a major role in embracing technology by focusing on governance rather than on gossip alone.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2016


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