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Yours obediently

Updated May 12, 2017


THERE are as many as five mandatory training programmes for civil servants during various stages of their career. But all this training seems to be failing miserably because these days every inquiry finds civil servants responsible for all that is wrong under the sun.

The most recent example is the action taken by the government on the inquiry report on the so-called Dawn leaks. Tariq Fatemi, a former officer of the Foreign Service of Pakistan, hardly ever put a foot wrong during his entire career and now when he is retired and was serving as special assistant to the prime minister on foreign affairs, he has been unceremoniously removed from his post in the aftermath of the inquiry report.

Similarly, the Prime Minister’s Office directed action against Rao Tehsin Ali, the principal information officer at the Ministry of Information “under the E&D [Efficiency and Discipline] Rules 1973”. He is also an acclaimed officer of the civil services of Pakistan having more than three and a half decades of experience under his belt.

Civil servants are trained to be servile.

This brings us to the larger question of whether there is something wrong with the training of civil servants that some are on the receiving end of the adverse recommendations of other probes too.

The methodology, the course and the routine of these training programmes leave a lot to be desired — more on that subject some other time.

However, there is one aspect of these trainings that must be noted. Civil servants are trained to be servile to the so called VIPs, be it the service boss, a political head, or an individual who by hook or by crook has achieved a social status worthy of the tag. Add a bit of sycophancy to this scheme of things and o ne gets to be the perfect civil servant — your most obedient servant.

A common routine at these training institutes is that whenever a VIP has to visit the place, everyone is briefed on what is appropriate behaviour time and again. If the VIP is a guest speaker, the audience is forbidden from asking any tough questions as that is “unbecoming of an officer” in the parlance of the instructors at these training courses. Only those conformists who have risen to positions of prestige are invited as guest speakers.

If a rebel sneaks through, they make sure there is no next time for the individual in question. A rebellious streak is synonymous with self-destruction in a civil service that is tarnished by the spirit of conformity. This explains why it is always the civil servants who are made scapegoats at the end of all inquiry reports related to happenings in the corridors of power. They are trained to sacrifice their integrity and even dignity for those they serve and sadly lessons in serving the state rather than individuals are not part of their training curriculum.

Further, have you ever been in close vicinity of the prime minister? Have you ever experienced the aura he exudes, the red carpet, the well-dressed peons scurrying across halls to make sure everything is in order, the stern-looking men in black suits deputed to take care of his security and acting as if they have reached the heights of self-actualisation?

The traffic police at the very hint of his visit bring almost the whole city to a standstill and long queues of vehicles start building up on roads hours before the squad carrying the prime minister passes by. How does it all work, one wonders. The civil servants from the Cabinet Division, the police force, the staff of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and the whole government machinery make the magic happen. This is another situation where years of training of civil servants serves the purpose.

Under such circumstances, the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case has empowered grade 19-20 officers to investigate the very figure they are trained to hold in high esteem throughout their careers.

This arrangement is paradoxical. I wonder where officers who can ‘fairly’ question the ‘royal family’ can be found? The fact that it is very likely that someone from the same royal household would be holding the highest office in the country in the years to come makes this search even more hopeless.

Lastly, the judgement on the Panama Papers mentions the following quote of French writer Honorй de Balzac that was reproduced in the1969 novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” But that is perhaps not the whole truth. The following line by Vito Corleone, the godfather in the novel, gives away the plot: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Truth be told, there is only one person who can make such an offer to the civil servants investigating the Panama Papers scandal. Need I say more?

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2017