Governance woes

09 Jun, 2017


ONE of the fundamentals of good governance is the ability to mobilise existing resources efficiently and to ensure their sustainability. This is mainly done through sound policies and their implementation which was the hallmark of the Ayub regime, whether it was in relation to the Green Revolution or industrialisation.

The fact that many of these policies benefited West Pakistan at the expense of East Pakistan is not the subject of this article: my point here is that the bureaucracy of that time effectively carried out its mandate to mobilise and utilise resources for big dams, irrigation systems, infrastructure development, food autarky and economic growth. Its performance outstripped that of many other countries in the region.

Then, it was mandatory for all department heads to visit their subordinate offices at least once a month. The dak bungalows and circuit houses were maintained by the government to facilitate officers on tour, who journeyed by train to visit field offices in their jurisdiction, checking accounts and inventories of sub-offices, visiting schools, inspecting roads, railway tracks, canals, dams, electricity lines, wheat silos etc.

Timely implementation of projects and accountability of officers serving away from the metropolis was thus ensured. Sadly, since the 1990s, official tours in Pakistan have meant only foreign tours. All middle and senior government officers spend a considerable amount of time attending workshops and conferences abroad. They rarely go on local tours unless these are to accompany their political bosses on ceremonial occasions.

Bureaucracy has become subservient to the rulers.

The last Pildat report on governance refle­cts the social disquiet resulting from the government’s failures on key developmental indicators such as clean water, housing for the poor, employment generation etc. Even economic growth is lopsided with one province enjoying financial patronage at the expense of others. The core issues of corruption, opaque public procurement, blind infrastructure projects and the increasing gap between the rich and poor are left unattended.

Today, most bureaucrats do not take simple decisions on the files. They are ‘risk-averse’ mainly due to political expediency, but also because there is too much personal interest at stake — from cushy jobs and project allowances to government housing, cars, plots and foreign trips.

Recently, the chief secretary and the IGP, Punjab, were given additional post-retirement lifetime perks including orderlies, petrol, electricity, gas and telephone charges for having carried out their normal duties in the course of their careers. This largesse at the expense of the taxpayer was followed by the Azad Kashmir government too except that there, the IGP, Bashir Ahmed Memon, refused to accept these post-retirement perks on account of the huge burden they would entail on the government’s cash-strapped resources. However, the IGP of AJK and the IGP of Sindh (on other counts) are rare exceptions. With each political and military change in the country, the civil service has become more subservient to the rulers and greedy for benefits which their predecessors could not have imagined.

Shared intrinsic values and necessary communication lines between the political leadership and the masses are indicators of good governance. Today, despite the devolution of power, this communication gap has increased not only in Balochistan and Sindh where the populace stands marginalised, but also in the Punjab, the most pampered province. All decisions, critical or trivial, centre on the chief minister. Even academics are sometimes refused NOCs to attend conferences abroad because of over-centralised deci­sion-making riddled with circuitous rigmaroles and bureaucratic obduracy.

That the delays caused by this chronic procrastination result in spiralling financial and opportunity costs for the country is not even considered. More importantly, the frequent transfer of secretaries — sometimes after only two months — means that there can neither be any continuation of programmes, nor any ownership of failures.

Good governance is based on, among other things, the timely implementation of policies. Decision-making, delegation and devolution of power to subordinate offices, vigilant monitoring and regular performance audits are fundamental to efficient resource utilisation. However, every year, the budgets of different departments in all provinces lapse due to a failure to follow these fundamental requirements.

Failures reflected by Monitoring & Evalu­ation Cell reports which are useful to gauge performance, are left unpunished. Account­ability of public servants requires political energy whereby civil society, the judiciary, media and opposition parties can effectively challenge the status quo and press for reforms. Meanwhile, the civil servants them­selves need to develop a sense of responsibility towards the taxpayers, as ably demo­ns­trated by AJK’s inspector general of police.

The writer is a former federal secretary.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2017