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Advice for the PM

Published Jun 25, 2013 10:31am


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MR Nawaz Sharif has earned admiration for the equanimity with which he bore his torment of arbitrary dismissal, persecution in Attock Fort and years of exile even though he lived in the comfort of Jeddah palaces and London’s Mayfair after that.

Back home and in power, as admiration fades away he must contend with detractors and sycophants alike, more than any other prime minister. In his past regime, sycophancy predominated because Mian Sahib is known to be amenable to personal flattery but wary of restraint in official business.

That may be an exaggerated view of his behaviour and style of government. But with the hindsight of my not-too-happy personal experience pertaining to the time when he was prime minister and I the secretary to government in his first and longest term (1990-93), I feel persuaded to give him some detached advice.

At that time, he transferred me twice out of sheer pique: first from the production ministry after I had been there for only four months and later from the petroleum ministry when I had just four months to retire. On both occasions, he acted on rumour or, more likely, on the complaint of the minister. No reason was given nor was I heard.

The rules of business specifically require that where the secretary and minister disagree the final decision must rest with the prime minister. Mr Sharif instead of calling for the files assumed that I must be wrong or, more dangerously, that the secretary must always act in subordination to the minister.

That has become a practice over the years. Secretaries, as a matter of course, acquiesce in every order of the minister — right, wrong or perverse.

Important decisions are now mostly one-sided as the prime minister has ceased to be an umpire. He himself having been at the receiving end of arbitrary orders, Mr Nawaz Sharif must now encourage secretaries to freely express their views even if they are contrary to that of the ministers, and agree with them if their reasoning is more plausible or the law is on their side.

Most politicians tend to gather around officials who are prepared to place personal or partisan interest above their duty to the public. As a consequence, family, caste, sect and other extraneous factors weigh more than professional worth in filling key posts. It is this collusive relationship between the politicians and civil servants that has led to the loss of faith in the integrity of the public service.

Mr Nawaz Sharif surely has suffered on this count in his dismissal and exile and, hopefully, has learnt his lesson. His brother Shahbaz Sharif and close aide Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan are known to adhere to the principle of dissent in official business more than the common run of politicians. That is what possibly has given Punjab and the petroleum ministry an edge over other provinces and ministries.

Yet another point. Ministers recruited in more numbers than needed only to accommodate aspirants to the office adds to the cost, lowers standards and causes delays. A photograph hanging at Sindh’s Governor House which shows the Quaid-i-Azam presiding over a cabinet of seven ministers in those hard-pressed times should be a guide for Mr Nawaz Sharif.

He may have twice as many but no more. Having sworn in a larger number already, he should stop there and guard against a Balochistan-like charade where, at one time, every member of the Assembly, barring one, was made a minister.

Like the ministers, the number of bureaucrats and consequently tiers of reporting are also on the increase resulting in delayed business and corruption. The tier of additional secretary should be abolished without a second thought. That grade should be given only for field assignments eg to commissioners and chief engineers. The reporting tiers in large ministries should be no more than three and just two in smaller ones.

Last, and most important, recruitment to public service at all levels should be on the basis of competitive merit. Political nominations have shaken the cohesion and neutral character of the public service. No wonder Pakistan is rated as one of the most inefficient and corrupt countries in the world.

Political supporters, whether they are qualified or merely cronies, if they must be rewarded should be given stipends to acquire skills for self-employment.

There is nothing new or special about these submissions. It is a mere reiteration of some basic but abandoned principles that the new government must follow to regain the lost confidence of the people.

The poverty of the masses is deeply rooted but their anger over the extravagance and corruption in government floats on the surface. Military takeovers have generally been greeted with a measure of relief and preference is often expressed for the presidential system. Finally, politics is known to make strange bedfellows. Coalitions tend to encumber the government and weaken the opposition. The wish to “carry everybody along” goes against the very spirit of parliamentary democracy.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Comments (18) Closed

Em Moosa Jun 25, 2013 04:01pm

Unfortunately, the country has again this incapable person to rule. Allah save Pakistan.

Aziz Jun 25, 2013 04:09pm

Good advice and perhaps in the public service too.

But bureaucrats with courage of conviction should do that while in service and not from the safe zone of retirement. If all of us strive to imbibe this quality in our daily lives then we will transform ourselves as a nation.

However, this is a culture that needs to be nurtured starting with nursery classes and mother's lap.

Col Khalid Masood Malik Jun 25, 2013 04:29pm

I have had the privilege to serve under the writer when he was Chairman PACO. I fully endorse his advice to the PM who I also happen to know quite a bit in various capacities and also from my School days in Saint Anthony's Lahore. The PM is prone to flattery and also a fair degree of stubbornness.If he wishes to survive for five years then he must put his house in order and learn from the past blunders. Good luck Mr PM !!!.

anwar khushab Jun 25, 2013 05:37pm

I have always admired Mr Kunwar Idris's acumen, and it is again on display in this article. However, he gets one thing completely wrong. He seems to be taking the view that the elected Minister and the appointed civil servant are equal. They are not. The Minister determines policy, the civil servant executes it. Of course the civil servant must advise the Minister, but if the latter chooses not to take the advice, it is not up to the civil servant to go running to the Prime Minister. I am not a particular admirer of Nawaz Sharif or his style of governing, but I can see why he would have to discipline Mr Idris.

HADI SAKEY Jun 25, 2013 05:48pm

Good advice by a senior most civil servant. Nawaz Sharif will hardly listen to the advice. I know this seasoned civil servant when he was District Magistrate Karachi and Hussein S. Suhrawardy was Prime Minister.

Nizamuddin Ahmad Jun 25, 2013 06:58pm

Mr. Nawaz Sharif has been a very successful businessman and seasoned politician, which a very good thing for the nation. Skill of negotiation is essential in today world affairs and dealing with parliament. Mr. Sharif will have to unite Pakistan once again as one nation as soon as possible by talking to people ( not to politicians and sardars, ) in town hall meetings. He should have a serious talks with academics, old federal / state officials who have been known to be honest operators, particularly in Karachi/ Sindh and Baluchistan. Prime Minister has a real challenge on hand, i.e to restore peace in Karachi which is life line of the country. I sincerely pray to God Almighty to grant Prime Minister courage and wisdom to carry out his constitutional duties without any malice, greed or any personal gain. He will have to put his country first and has to say no his benefactors no matter who. Congratulations and Good Luck Mr. Prime Minister.

ONLOOKER Jun 25, 2013 08:50pm

It applies equally to India.

K.K. Fakhta Jun 25, 2013 09:19pm

Agree completely with what you say. Specially that recruitment to the civil should be on merit.

The provincial quota system that was introduced originally to restrict the numbers of people from Karachi should be removed and replaced should be removed and altered to protect the truly disadvantaged areas of the country.

These areas exist in every province and should be lumped together in one quota for such areas instead of dividing the this revered recruitment by province.

A provincial quota system leads to provincial bias which is dangerous to the integrity of the country.

In India there is a quota for scheduled classed and under developed areas but it is NOT divided by province. This is a good example to follow.

Also there should be a mechanism to monitor the development of the underdeveloped areas and the quota for these areas houdl be reduced gradually as they become more developed. A good basis could be that city's and towns which have a degree college no longer qualify for this revered quota. This or any other system which enables a region to graduate to the developed area could be used,

Zubair Khan Jun 25, 2013 10:21pm

"There is nothing new or special about these submissions. It is a mere reiteration of some basic but abandoned principles that the new government must follow to regain the lost confidence of the people." Surely these are abandoned principles resulting in to destruction of good governance. The day merit and other human competence qualities will start gaining due recognition in the country Pakistan is likely to score much better on performance scale.

NASAH (USA) Jun 25, 2013 10:28pm

If you had not personalized this blog -- it would have been a more insightful peek into the workings of Nawaz ministry -- but it is not.

s.khan Jun 25, 2013 11:25pm

Good Advice. Besides keeping the number of the ministers limited, Mr. Sharif should also utilize the tool of management by objectives. Each minister should set the objectives for the ministry concerned and report the results quarterly. Accountability is important to prevent the ministries becoming the fiefdoms and source of enrichment, patronage for chosen few and impoverishment of the masses. The minister failing to achieve their objectives should be dismissed. PM will have public support if perceived trying to improve the functioning of the government and delivering services to common men. Hope he utilized his time in his stay at the palace in KSA to critically examine his governance and particularly the failings to learn and improve. This is his last chance and an opportunity to leave a reasonable legacy.

imran Jun 26, 2013 11:07am

Sir nice word only if this can be implemented, i must ask you to keep writing at least i can have the satisfaction people are out there really care about there country

Rashad Jun 26, 2013 03:37pm

@NASAH (USA): he only drew references. Mr Kunwar has vast experience in managing the states' affairs. Naturally his disposition towards such topics should be considered and his personal experiences (which do not involve sensitive details) can be shared for the betterment of the nation and states machinery.

UlHaq Jun 26, 2013 06:38pm

@K.K. Fakhta: Well said, Fakhta. In fact all quotas or "affirmative actions" based on associations (region, religion, institutions, parentage etc) should be abolished and true merit-based hiring and firing should be adopted. If you want to develop any region, increase its share of education or training budgets but don't sacrifice the merit. However, I don't see this happening as most of the country works on the basis of associations (kinships, regional, political, religious/sect-based and so on).

Tanvir Jun 26, 2013 07:40pm

TRASH the parliamentary system which is based on creating multiple centers of authorities that are unable to make well thought firm decisions for the best interests of the nation and the country. Pakistan should adopt a presidential system tailored to its country's politician need. One President to rule the country with one minister managing each of the ministry accountable to the parliament of the political parties & the elders in the senate. The president & ministers shall be left to execute the laws, while the parliament shall the serve the people who elected them by making laws to protect them. The senate shall represent the individual provinces and a united country and deal with inter-provinces and international issues related to treaties and defense and other national affairs.

Gulbagh Singh Jun 27, 2013 01:49am

Very surprised that Pakistan also have such gentleman.

Babar Jun 27, 2013 04:57am

Advice provided seems to be good but the fact is that Nawaz Sharif is a Punjabi nationalist who got votes on the basis of nationalism. Most of his ministers and advisors are from Lahore or from Central Punjab. These people have all been tried and tested. Ishaq Dar was just an accountant and is developing budget for Pakistan. Tax revenue is generated mainly from middle class and then spent on the elite class. If you are taxing lunda bazaar but not taxing those who driving BMWs or travel every year abroad then it's not fair.

Salahuddin Mirza Jun 27, 2013 09:28pm

Every word of the advice is worth writing in letters of gold. But will it have effect on its addressee ? More likely than not, it will be no more than the proverbial 'BEEN" played before a buffaloe. Mard-e-nadaan par kalam-e-narm-o-nazuk bai asar.