‘This is it’

Published June 28, 2023
The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

ORGANISATIONS that care about the efficiency and effectiveness of their processes and seek to improve their performance carry out exit interviews when any important employee leaves. The ideal human resource management practice states that one should take an exit interview of employees even if they are being terminated. However, as we all know, here in Pakistan we care less and less about human resource management, especially in the government sector. Every now and then, someone comes along the way with a vision and as an agent of change; soon, either we change his vision, or we change him. Something similar happened with Tariq Malik who recently resigned as chairman, Nadra.

Since no one takes an exit interview when you leave government service, people who really do care tend to find other ways to provide feedback. I left the civil service with a charge-sheet against the service itself in an article titled ‘I am corrupt honestly’ on these pages. I have been writing ever since to point out all that goes awry in the civil service of Pakistan, despite being fully aware that such feedback usually falls on deaf ears. But people who do care about the organisation, or the country, try to do everything in their capacity to warn about the impending catastrophe. They say organisations are living beings, open to change, so the resignation of Mr Malik — despite the fact that he has contributed a lot to making the organisation highly dynamic and efficient in his couple of stints as chairman, Nadra — should not be an issue. But the problem is that when you do not pay heed to the feedback when it is on offer, slowly but surely, you end up killing the organisation, as in the case of Pakistan International Airlines or Pakistan Steel Mills.

The former chairman has provided a charge-sheet of sorts against the government in the form of his resignation letter. I could write a series of articles on the things he pointed out, but for now, let’s focus on the last paragraph where he pleads with the prime minster to avoid appointing a bureaucrat as his successor. What he had warned against is exactly what has been done. The secretary, Board of Investment, has been given additional charge of chairman, Nadra. Still, we are grateful to the prime minister that he made the appointment outside his immediate clan, otherwise he could have easily appointed that nephew who might be very good in memorising the family tree, which is, after all, Nadra’s core function.

I do not have anything against bureaucrats, just that most are living in the last century and have been groomed to eat, sleep and repeat. Enter a bureaucrat in a leading role, and innovation and dynamism often exit the organisation. Will there be any progress if everyone just repeated how things were done in the past? Bureaucrats generally know little about the technical domain, or any domain for that matter. All they do in their careers is to implement rules that were written a century ago and might not make much sense now, but still they faithfully enforce them. After all, training that still focuses on learning horse-riding more than driving a motor car tells you how elitist they are and how ill-equipped to deal with modern governance.

Most bureaucrats are living in the last century.

They are in a state of denial; they surround themselves with people who perpetuate that state of denial, who still think that the CSS exam is the ultimate success in the world. The civil superior services exam instils a sense of superiority in them that makes them oblivious to the world around them and the pace at which it moves. The learning stops; resultantly most senior bureaucrats are stuck in the 1980s — the time they took the CSS exam. The trainings they complete during the course of their careers are also designed and approved by seniors of the same lot, thus reinforcing anachronism. This has led to shrinking space for efficiency, effectiveness and innovation in our highly bureaucratic organisations; even where they adopt modern tools they hardly tap their true potential as the man behind the gun always matters.

Lastly, I have been getting emails and Twitter DMs asking why I don’t write more often. It is not polite to respond to a question with another question, otherwise I would ask: why should I, what for? We do not have a democracy, it is a government of ‘the institution’, for ‘the institution’ and by ‘the institution’. This ‘institutionalisation’ of Pakistan is making people very disillusioned and fed up. We should be worried about the time when people stop providing feedback and their resignations become more like the following lines: ‘This is it. Thanks. Bye.’

The writer is a former civil servant.

syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com

Twitter: @SyedSaadat55

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2023

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