IT was in November last year that Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmad announced the process of hiring new workers for Pakistan Railways. Some 10,000 to 11,000 ‘skilled workers’ would be required ‘on an emergency basis’ to inject efficiency into the running of the public-sector giant, the minister had announced at a news conference in Lahore some months ago, having apparently received the go-ahead from the prime minister. He said all employees who were rehired on a contract basis after retirement were to be replaced by younger people. At the time, it sounded like a positive way of bringing fresh minds, ideas, and new enthusiasm into a lethargic institution that forever seems to be approaching the end of its journey. Over one million hopefuls submitted their job applications for 8,000 positions in major cities across the country, in the hopes of working for the coveted government sector in the backdrop of a dismal and uncertain economy. So how would the ministry go about selecting the best minds, the hardest workers, the most suitable candidates from the abundance of choice before it? Well, arbitrarily, it would seem. It was recently announced by the railways minister himself that candidates would be hired through a ballot — essentially, a lottery to decide who would fill which slot — in a manner that seems impersonal and random.
It is difficult to find any logic for such announcements that come across as cold-hearted and indifferent to the plight of the workers and institution. Many have expressed their shock at the announcement. Not only is the process unethical, it is unconstitutional. For a company that has been running into massive losses for years, such an attitude belies an (at best) non-serious approach to a very serious and persistent malaise. Qualified people are required to improve the railways and help steer it in a positive direction. While the government speaks wistfully of bullet trains occasionally, it seems it cannot even choose the best and brightest to fill the vacancies in this sector.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2019