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Criticising the bureaucracy

October 22, 2018

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IT is emerging as an unfortunate trend and it ought to be curbed quickly if the PTI is to grow in its role as a national governing party. Addressing two groups of journalists on Saturday, Prime Minister Imran Khan made what is fast becoming a familiar set of complaints and promises. Amidst the prime minister’s claims and allegations, fresh attacks against the bureaucracy stood out. The bureaucracy, according to Mr Khan, is creating hurdles in the way of the PTI and it is doing so to help the PML-N, which, according to the prime minister, appointed a great number of favoured bureaucrats during its last term. Politicisation of the bureaucracy and the police forces are a fact of national life; indeed, the centrepiece of the PTI’s reforms agenda is the depoliticisation of the bureaucracy and police. But before Mr Khan and his government can unveil their reforms for the bureaucracy and the police, the prime minister and the PTI may be creating further problems for themselves and the public at large with reckless attacks against the bureaucracy.

Surely, if the PML-N is influencing senior bureaucrats to perform poorly in their jobs or to undermine their political bosses, and the PTI has proof of such machinations, it is incumbent on the rulers to transparently investigate such officers and take administrative action against them. The bureaucracy exists to serve the public and execute the rightful policies of a duly elected government. Mr Khan’s complaints on Saturday suggested an approach of identifying and targeting uncooperative bureaucrats in a manner similar to what has been considered political victimisation in the past. How will the prime minister and the PTI determine when they are not getting the so-called full cooperation of bureaucrats? Arbitrary reassignments, a constant reshuffling of the bureaucracy and demanding personal loyalties are afflictions, not solutions to a more effective bureaucracy.

If the PTI wants firm accountability of the bureaucracy it must also extend fair accountability and rules-based promotions and transfers. Thus far, in some early high-profile incidents involving bureaucrats and police officers, the PTI governments at the centre and in the provinces have failed to provide adequate explanations for what appear to have been politically motivated transfers Moreover, as with many of the task forces set up by the prime minister, the task force on civil service reforms has not produced a road map. Consultations with the bureaucracy across the country are ongoing, but if the prime minister himself is of a certain mind, will a task force or prime ministerial adviser be able to steer the right course? There is much criticism of the bureaucracy that is warranted; what the PTI leadership needs to recognise is that glib words and ill-thought-out attacks can be counterproductive. Produce a viable road map to civil service reforms now rather than descend into the ultimately self-defeating practice of bureaucracy blaming.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2018