Needed reforms

06 Aug 2020

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THE abolition of more than 71,000 federal jobs in BPS-1 to BPS-16 — or over 10pc of around 680,000 sanctioned posts — is a welcome step towards a leaner government. That the abolished posts had been vacant for at least one year means that most of these jobs were not needed at all and could have been created out of political considerations at the taxpayers’ expense. The decision is part of the institutional reforms aimed at restructuring the federal government and will help check the latter’s swelling pay and pension bill besides creating fiscal space for new recruitments to improve the quality and reach of essential public services including education and healthcare. The government has also begun evaluation of its employees in BPS-1 to BPS-19 to check poor performance — but here there are valid concerns of potential political manipulation on its part — besides reducing the number of federal departments, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, etc. On the face of it, the purpose is to make the government machinery responsive towards the needs of the citizens while controlling its running expenditure.

While the institutional reforms undertaken so far should be appreciated, these were the easier ones to execute. The harder ones are yet to be implemented. There are ample indications that the government is facing resistance to the ‘change’ it wants to bring in the quality of governance in many places from entrenched vested interests. For instance, the FBR hierarchy is reported to have already rejected its proposed reorganisation as suggested by the institutional reforms body. Similarly, political compulsions are stopping the government from abolishing ministries and functions that have already been devolved to the provinces in spite of the significant burden on its budget. It must, however, be pointed out that a leaner government doesn’t necessarily guarantee smarter governance as such. Reforms that aren’t accompanied by greater use of technology and improvements in processes crucial to transforming the way public services are provided are always less likely to deliver effective governance.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2020