Reforming civil service
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.