Bureaucracy: Spinal cord of a government

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Spinal cord

Bureaucracy in any government – democratic, autocratic, monarchy or military – is as crucial as the spinal cord in the human body. It has been universally recognised as the permanent government for it, being the guardian of rules of business, accords continuity to the implementation of the state policies and programmes irrespective of the nature, complexion and tenure of a government. This defines its centrality and instrumentality in the unhindered management of state affairs.

Given its central role in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes in the high echelons of administrations, and the degree of efficiency and competence this complex responsibility requires, every country has designed a credible system for the recruitment of bureaucracy. In South Asia, Pakistan and India inherited the method of the recruitment of erstwhile Indian Civil Service by the British India. In Pakistan, these competitive examinations are held every year at federal and provincial levels and are open to all graduates within the prescribed age limit.

This method of recruitment has been very effective in bringing forth persons of high caliber that not only shine within the country but attract the prying sights of the international institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations. We have had a constellation of bureaucrats who pursued successful careers in these institutions. Two particular service groups – Pakistan Administrative Service and Foreign Service of Pakistan – can well be proud of bureaucrats of international repute who emerged out of their ranks.

Competitive examination

It is claimed, though debatably, that the Ayub era was the golden period for bureaucrats to show their grit and sheen. Bureaucrats had security of tenure and service with latitude in shouldering their responsibilities in both the secretariat and field. Transfers, postings and promotions were merit-based. The seniors were protective about their juniors and never hesitated in defending them if some mishap occurred in performance of duty in good faith.

Within two decades of independence, the political conditions of the country began manifesting their overall impact on this central institution.  General Yahya Khan, Chief Martial Law Administrator, shook the bureaucracy to the hilt by summarily dismissing 303 senior bureaucrats on flimsy grounds in 1969. No one from the senior ranks confronted this arbitrary action. Summary dismissals inflicted a great setback to the confidence of bureaucrats and their faith in the espirit de corps. The most serious jolt to the bureaucracy came when Z.A. Bhutto dismissed 1,300 of lower and higher ranking state officials. The list of these dismissals included officers who had already retired or passed away. Astonishingly, the name of the stenographer of the Deputy Commissioner Larkana was in the list. No one could fathom the threat this poor stenographer posed to the most popular leader of the country.

In the first PPP rule, the massive lateral entries and direct appointments; blatant political interference; absence of security of tenure and career progression; bullying and mendacious behaviour of the new lot of democratic representatives did have an enduring impact on bureaucracy compelling it to go into a self-surviving mode losing all initiatives being the hallmark of a good officer in confronting public problems and exercising his or her powers without let and hindrance, fear or favour to resolve them. Sycophancy counted more than competence.

Civil Service Academy Lahore

The subsequent regimes of General Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and General Pervez Musharraf did not bring any respite to the bureaucracy in terms of security of tenure, merit-based transfers, postings and promotions. The Sharifs believed more in sycophancy than merit and took this ill-advised system to new heights creating demigods in the bureaucratic structures in Punjab and the federation. Financial impropriety of political bosses was bound to taint the credentials of blue eyed bureaucrats. Nothing could stop its seepage into the lower bureaucratic ranks, too.

The province of Sindh acquired notoriety in destroying the bureaucratic structure in 1990 when Late Jam Sadiq Ali was imposed as Chief Minister by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Aided by his Principal Secretary, who jumped from grade 18 to grade 20 to hold this powerful position as the prize for his chauffeuring around the candidate Jam Sadiq Ali in his electioneering when he was Deputy Commissioner, Sanghar, the Chief Minister played havoc with the provincial bureaucracy by horizontal movement of officials to cadre positions, transfers and postings against senior positions in personal pay and grade.

The system of recruitment through Sindh Public Service Commission (SPSC) was reduced to a shambles. The sons and nephews of political demigods were appointed to lucrative posts directly. This spoils system continued unchanged in successive regimes. Some bureaucratic demigods of the time being are the product of this misguided system that still continues to haunt the SPSC.

For the past one decade, the Sindh High Court is seized with petitions of successful candidates of the SPSC competitive examination of 2003 who were deprived of their hard-earned right to recruitment to cadre posts by manipulating results and appointing the failing sons and nephews of politically influential dynasties and SPSC members. The National Accountability Bureau has filed references against the then Chairman and some members of SPSC and 18 officers so wrongfully appointed. The Sindh Government has been employing all delaying tactics to circumvent the verdict of the court.

Foreign Service Training Academy

This spoils system was taken to consummation by the successive PPP administrations from 2008 reducing the provincial bureaucracy to a cesspool of corruption, inefficiency and aberration. The highest court of the country had to intervene to stop the ever expanding process of absorptions of low ranking officials from various departments into senior cadre posts, shoulder promotions and postings in personal pay and grade. The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court compelled the Government of Sindh (GoS) to revert several hundred officers to original grades in their parent departments. We witnessed Senior Superintendents of Police of the day reverting to their original ranks of Inspector or Chief Municipal Officers going back as billing Assistants to Water and Sewerage Board of Karachi. The verdict of the court was arrogantly termed as blatant interference in the provincial autonomy.

The Sindh High Court is currently seized with an interesting case. Several hundred officers from various departments including the Provincial Civil and Local Council Services had entered into plea bargains with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) returning parts of their spoils in millions to avoid imprisonment. The court was astonished when it incidentally came to know that all such officers had been appointed against lucrative positions. For the past one year or so, the Government of Sindh has not been able to submit the list of such officers to the court.

It is saddening to see that federal bureaucrats working on deputation in the province could not keep their hands clean from the dirt spread all around. About a dozen officers of the rank of Provincial Secretary and above from various service groups are currently languishing in Karachi jail or facing courts on charges of corruption and misuse of power. Those in jail include one officer of Pakistan Police Service from Sindh who had topped in Pakistan in the 35th Common Training Programme.

Senior civil servants

Bureaucracy is part of the society we are living in. We, as a nation, have long strayed from the right path. We have been living an unsecure collective life in which everyone who matters a bit is seized with an overwhelming obsession to secure his future by hook or by crook. Some with power and opportunity, barring lot of exceptions, have gone too far in their obsession for wealth and property. In the federal structure of bureaucracy, we find a gratifying lot of upright officers. They need to be brought forward to play their due role in building the country.

The bureaucracy has genuine grievances. They need security of tenure and service and latitude to shoulder their responsibilities. An upright officer would loathe accepting unnecessary interference or hindrance in the performance of his duty. The Chief Secretary or the Inspector General of Police should play the intermediary role between a minister and a field officer. The misguided system of picking up officers of his choice by a Minister or a Member of National or Provincial Assembly for posting in his home district to remain at his beck and call is mainly responsible for decline in the performance of bureaucracy.  All the field appointments should be merit-based and at the discretion of the Chief Secretary and the Inspector General of Police. The same merit-based criteria should apply to the postings in the federal structure of bureaucracy.

Bureaucrats have genuine apprehensions about arbitrary arrests by the NAB. The recent arrest of senior bureaucrats by NAB has sent a shockwave in bureaucracy. There are reports that bureaucracy has gone into a self-surviving mode and stopped taking decisions. This is too serious a problem to ignore. The accountability is the hallmark of every civilised society. No public office holder or someone from any other trade and profession could be allowed to swindle public funds or cause loss to the public exchequer.

The Government can legislate to subject the arrest of an officer by NAB to a proper warrant of arrest, and the permission of a committee comprising of the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary and Inspector General of Police in a province. At the Federal level, a two-member committee of Secretary, Establishment and Secretary, Cabinet could look into the case proffered by NAB before allowing the arrest of an officer. This could assuage the apprehensions of bureaucracy about arbitrary arrests by NAB. This would also prevent NAB from becoming a demigod. TW

Alam Brohi is former Ambassador of Pakistan and was associated with Foreign Service of Pakistan   

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