Re­form­ing civil ser­vice

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan has ap­pealed to the civil ser­vants to sup­port his re­forms agenda, promis­ing in the process a mas­sive turn­around in their lives and the coun­try within two years. In re­turn, he promised them dig­nity and re­spect by elim­i­nat­ing their hu­mil­i­a­tion at the hands of the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Bureau (NAB), higher pay and in­cen­tives to scotch the temp­ta­tion of cor­rup­tion, merit in pro­mo­tions, pro­tec­tion of ten­ure and last but not least, de­politi­ci­sa­tion of the bu­reau­cracy. The PM's ap­peal is recog­ni­tion of the role of the ex­ec­u­tive arm as the im­ple­menter of pol­icy and the in­sti­tu­tion re­spon­si­ble for the day-to-day-run­ning of the state's af­fairs.

At the same time, the PM lamented the fact that the coun­try was in dire straits fi­nan­cially, lack­ing money to run the govern­ment and vic­tim of a debt trap in which fresh loans are re­quired just to ser­vice the pre­vi­ous loans. The PM held out the as­sur­ance that civil ser­vants act­ing in good faith who made hon­est mis­takes would not be pe­nal­ized; they would in fact re­ceive pro­tec­tion and sup­port from the govern­ment. The PM also ad­mit­ted that quick post­ings and trans­fers were most dis­rup­tive of the work of gov­ern­ments. Promis­ing an 'out of the box' ap­proach to Pak­istan's prob­lems, Im­ran Khan ar­gued that a change in the lav­ish colo­nial life­style of the elite and bu­reau­cracy would rid the coun­try of debt.

Im­ran Khan rightly asked se­nior civil ser­vants to con­sider be­fore spend­ing any money the ma­jor­ity of young peo­ple in the coun­try look­ing for em­ploy­ment, the mil­lions of out-of-school chil­dren, the tragedy of mil­lions of un­der­nour­ished chil­dren, the high rate of mor­tal­ity amongst women in child­birth and in­fant deaths due to wa­ter­borne dis­eases. While the PM's ideas re­flect a hu­man­i­tar­ian ap­proach to the coun­try's so­cial and health prob­lems and a pro­fes­sional ap­proach to the bu­reau­cracy charged with im­ple­ment­ing the govern­ment's poli­cies, there are a num­ber of as­pects of his speech that bear com­ment. First and fore­most, the PM's 'prom­ise' of a Sin­ga­pore model in which the bu­reau­crats' pay would be so high that cor­rup­tion would not en­ter their minds misses a very im­por­tant com­po­nent of the model he ad­mires. This is the eth­i­cal di­men­sion with­out which all the gold in the world can­not per­suade a per­son in a po­si­tion of power or in­flu­ence to forego the po­ten­tial ad­van­tages ac­cru­ing to such of­fice. And in any case, ac­cord­ing to his own ad­mis­sion, the PM can­not prom­ise this pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow for at least two years. So in essence he is ask­ing the bu­reau­cracy to sup­port the govern­ment through their ef­forts for at least two years, af­ter which they will be richly re­warded.

The pet theme of the PTI and Im­ran Khan, ie cor­rup­tion, needs to be placed in his­tor­i­cal con­text to un­der­stand how quickly af­ter in­de­pen­dence the rot set in, start­ing with false evac­uee prop­erty claims and es­ca­lat­ing there­after to the present ar­guably en­demic pro­por­tions. There is also the cur­rent fear­ful at­mos­phere amongst civil ser­vants to be dealt with. Some top bu­reau­crats have been hauled up by NAB os­ten­si­bly on cor­rup­tion charges but in the eyes of many be­cause they were con­sid­ered too close for com­fort to the pre­vi­ous govern­ment. Civil ser­vants must be pro­vided an en­vi­ron­ment in which they can func­tion with­out fear or favour, other­wise the govern­ment ma­chin­ery may well grind to a halt, if it has not al­ready. And the of­fi­cers of the bu­reau­cracy also need to change their at­ti­tudes to the cit­i­zen from treat­ing the com­mon man as a colo­nial servant of the state to a cit­i­zen em­pow­ered by all the rights pro­vided in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

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