State’s grandeur

13 Nov 2018


The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

ON seeing Prime Minister Imran Khan being received in the majestic setting of the Great Hall of the People and other state buildings by the Chinese leadership in Beijing, and looking majestic himself, I wondered whether it may have crossed his mind that selling majestic state buildings or converting them into educational institutions or public places is not the only way to pull millions out of poverty.

The thought was more relevant in the context of his having gone to China — as per his own statement, to learn. The Chinese have much to teach Pakistan, but let us start with lessons from them on governance.

They have been the first to recruit civil servants through a highly competitive national-level examination. They divided their civil service into nine grades starting from the attendants to the emperor and grand secretaries, and went down to the lowest grade like prefectural tax collectors, deputy jail warden, deputy police commissioner etc. The ‘mandarins’, as members of an effective civil service have been called since, ran a tight ship and the current Chinese success story has been ­implemented by them.

Bureaucracy is not performing because it is demoralised.

Look at our civil service, which started out being called the ‘steel frame’ of the Raj. The demolition began with the 1973 reforms which took away constitutional guarantee from all and put the civil service ‘in its place’. The era of the effective civil service of the 1960s that Imran Khan talked about in his first address to civil servants started its decline with these reforms. Then came the separation of the judiciary from the executive in the late 1990s, which transferred the bulk of the executive’s magisterial powers to the judiciary.

As if that were not enough, Gen Musharraf came up with his own vision of local government, and advised by some police officers, based on petty rivalries, took away whatever few powers the judiciary had allowed the executive. So now we have an executive service in the field with no original power of its own, but with expectations of taking care of matters — from law and order, to education, health, cleanliness, illegal encroachments, food hygiene to everything under the sun.

Both the government and public expect the same effectiveness as from the 1960s’ civil service, not realising that the executive then was viewed as a tiger — the current civil service is a tiger without teeth. It is only effective when it comes to the weak and meek; as soon as someone decides to resist or defy it, the civil service hides away.

We have been trying to reform the police force and make it effective in isolation. When the government writ was effective, the police and magistracy were two sides of the same coin. Now the word ‘executive magistracy’ invites boos from the police.

There is no space between 10 young kids bringing the whole of DHA to a standstill without being stopped (as I personally witnessed during the recent Tehreek-i-Labbaik protests) and shooting innocent people as in the Model Town operation. In the 1960s, the magistrate was the man responsible for handling unfriendly mobs, through tact, persuasion, on-the-spot action through magisterial powers, and as a last resort using the police to shell or baton-charge the crowds — and if all else failed, through a legitimate order to shoot. The responsibility was his and not that of the police, keeping the latter protected from subsequent action.

In our continuing epic saga of destroying the civil service, the latest episode is selling all command residences of DCs, SPs, commissioners and DIGs, because they are ‘too big’. I believe a list of 24,000 government properties has been sent to the committee set up for the purpose. It will be interesting to see how the government follows its principled and even-handed policy and puts the divisional commanders and corps commanders residences on the market next.

Selling government properties may raise a few billion rupees, whose ingestion will not even be noticed by the finance ministry, but will lower forever the prestige of the state in the country and discourage our future bright young ones from joining the civil services.

Prime Minister Khan’s team seems to think that the bureaucracy is not delivering because it is inclined towards the PML-N. The sooner the government stops blaming its opponents for everything, the better it will be for the rulers and the country. The bureaucracy is not performing because it is demoralised and without incentives.

It is much safer to sit on the sidelines and take no decisions because no one is going to defend the bureaucrats when they make a mistake.

Unless the bureaucracy is assured that its members and the government are part of the same team, it will not perform.

The only other option for the bureaucracy is to show the guts to stand up for its rights through strong associations and unions to give itself a voice in this era of governance through the media.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2018