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‘Political interference’

Updated September 06, 2013

THIS is apropos A.G. Noorani’s article ‘Political interference’ (Aug 31) on the suspension of a Delhi sub-divisonal magistrate which has earned prime space on the editorial page.

India and Pakistan on independence inherited the same system and traditions of administration. It is a measure of the degradation suffered by the administrative services -- central as well as provincial -- that the suspension, even dismissal, of commissioners or secretaries hardly ever finds a mention in the press.

And when it does, it is with a measure of glee rather than sympathy -- not even when the lots of 303 or 1,300 went out.

The responsibility for it entirely lies on the political and military leaders who have alternately ruled, mind you not governed, the country since independence.

The principle of recruitment on merit through the Public Service Commission has progressively given way to nominations at all tiers of the service. The suspension and dismissal are equally arbitrary, though it must be conceded they are less frequent now than were in the past.

Transfer and ‘special duty’ (which really means cooling your heels at home) are now more commonly employed. Nevertheless, it has been made impossible for civil servants to act impartially in course of their duty if the political bosses choose to intervene, which is often.

Insecurity necessarily breeds maladministration and corruption. An evidence of it came forth on the business pages of this paper of the same day. An article on governance by Khaleeq Kiani quotes credible surveys, putting India at 101 among 142 countries and Pakistan way down at 121. Bangladesh must feel satisfied on having gone its own way. At 102 it ranks just below India.

Bad governance must spill over to retard and harm the economy. An instant corroboration is again to be seen on the same business page. Our steel mill, puny by world standards, has run into losses of Rs110 billion and yet the politicians, technocrats and judges all insist it must not be privatised nor shut down.

Combined with regional discontent and sectarian hatred, Pakistan is fast going down a slippery slope. Only the politicians and generals can combine their skills to save it. The civil servants have no voice and the people do not matter.


Gordian knot

APROPOS A.G. Noorani’s article (Aug 31) on ‘Political interference’ written in the context of public service delivery by civil servants in India where one junior level field officer was reportedly subjected to disciplinary action through using political discretion for doing a mandated lawful action which was found inimical to local political and business interests.

This eternal tug of war is neither new nor unexpected and it invariably knits the challenging fabric of contemporary relationship between the bureaucracy and politicians.

Broadly speaking and in a traditional governance paradigm, the role of politicians-in-power, is to make policies and monitor the results of such polices and provide further guidelines. They are not supposed to enter into implementation or operational part of the policies which is considered to be the domain of bureaucrats.

However, the public administration landscape in Pakistan, and to a fair extent in India, is riddled with political encroachments into this domain, as evidenced by Mr Noorani.

Bureaucrats claim that they are duty-bound by law to implement the approved policies because they are made and held responsible for results while shouldering administrative and fiduciary accountabilities.

Politicians say that they have to face voters, therefore, they should have a say in every affair that affects public service delivery.

This paradox manufactures a perpetual Gordian knot which needs to be untied.

The solution lies in charting out a new paradigm in which roles and responsibilities of political and bureaucratic leadership need to be redefined in the rules of business and other relevant rules in which every role should also bear accountability. For instance, if a secretary of a provincial department or a Federal Division is Principal Accounting Officer, then he is responsible for all administrative and financial decisions made. No political leadership should be allowed to interfere with the administration and finances because the latter do not carry any statutory responsibility.

In case the political leadership invokes the argument of going to their electorate for votes for interfering in the operational domain, then they should also share the burden of responsibility and accountability. In that case, a new charter of roles and responsibilities will be needed which are precisely required in the contemporary environment.