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A bureaucracy trampled

August 04, 2011

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MEMORIES can be tricky sometimes, so let’s take a trip down memory lane.

“The chief minister was in a strident mood. He made it clear that the agitation launched by the MRD but actually spearheaded by the PPP would not be allowed to succeed. He reminded us (Punjab commissioners) that there was a long queue of officers waiting to become commissioners, DIGs, deputy commissioners and SPs and that anyone found less than enthusiastic about the ‘political’ dimension of his work would be shunted out.”

The chief minister in question? Nawaz Sharif.

Yep, the same Sharif who has been urging bureaucrats to follow their conscience and the letter of the law in recent days wasn’t quite so charitable back when he was chief minister of Punjab in 1986.

Aminullah Chaudhry, a bureaucrat who joined the Civil Service of Pakistan in 1967 and rose to the senior ranks of the bureaucracy until his arrest as one of the ‘hijackers’ of the Musharraf plane in 1999 before turning approver and helping secure a conviction against his patron, Nawaz Sharif, has done all of us a favour by putting in black and white how the bureaucracy has, over the decades, been used and abused by politicians and by cunning and conniving bureaucrats to enhance their wealth and status.

At times, it’s difficult to decide whether Chaudhry’s book, Political Administrators (OUP 2011), makes for prosaic or wretched reading.

“Despite my (Chaudhry’s) best efforts to humour him, the behaviour of Chaudhry Sher Ali, mayor of Faisalabad, became increasingly unbearable … I finally had a detailed talk with him in order to ascertain what his problem was … He was quite frank in admitting that he had ‘invested’ considerable sums of money in the process of getting elected as mayor and he now wished to ‘recoup’ his losses by taking a number of administrative initiatives. He made it a point to highlight his family relationship with the chief minister (Nawaz Sharif) and the fact that he meant to exploit it, if I stood in the way,” writes Chaudhry, who was then commissioner of Faisalabad division.

“In March 1987, when the chief minister visited Kamalia, I raised the issue with him. Nawaz Sharif expressed his surprise …

[but] the significant point is that he did not promise to rein in Sher Ali. This made my decision easier.” Chaudhry put in a request to be transferred out and Sharif obliged in short order, moving him to the post of secretary local government and rural development.

Chaudhry’s extensive time in Punjab also brought him in contact with the younger Sharif, another present-day champion of letting the bureaucracy get on with its work without fear or favour.

“In two cases Shahbaz (serving as chief minister of Punjab in the late 1990s) took controversial decisions. In the first, he recommended and secured an accelerated promotion for a DMG officer holding the position of secretary of agriculture and thereafter allowed this individual to take long leave and join the private employment of an organisation he had dealt with in his capacity as a provincial secretary. In another, he allowed the secretary transport to proceed on long leave and take up employment with a transport company.”

The younger Sharif’s fixation with loyalty at the cost of other principles didn’t change with age. Chaudhry writes: “Well before becoming chief minister (following the 2008 elections), Shahbaz Sharif asked a former chief secretary and inspector general of police to draw up lists of officers who were to be removed and another of long time ‘loyalists’. …Within a week over 3,500 contract employees of the government were sacked without following due process, and hundreds of DCOs; EDOs; DDOs; TMOs; officers of the health, education, local government and community development, housing and physical planning departments; CCPOs, DPOs, DSPs, SPs, SHOs transferred … Even a fiercely loyal member of the provincial cabinet was forced to comment adversely on this large-scale mayhem.”

But it wasn’t just the Sharifs. The military features prominently in Chaudhry’s tale of the manipulation and distortion of the bureaucracy.

“In May 1997, Lt Gen (retd) Tanvir Hussain Naqvi called on Anwar Ahmed Khan, the deputy commissioner of Rahimyar Khan, and complained that agricultural land allotted to him under a particular scheme had been illegally occupied….

“After a preliminary probe, it emerged that a certain retired army subedar would scour the area for allottees like Naqvi and put them in touch with locals keen on buying land … According to the subedar, Naqvi had sold the land for a hefty amount against a receipt which the subedar had in his possession….

“When Gen Naqvi protested again, Anwar confronted Naqvi with the subedar.” An “acrimonious” confrontation ensued, the general feeling “insulted” by the lowly subedar with the receipt and the deputy commissioner arguing he couldn’t do what the general wanted because of the small problem that the general had already sold the land he now wanted cleared of ‘encroachers’.

“Lt Gen (retd) Naqvi left the office in a rather foul mood, loudly expressing his views about ‘unhelpful’ deputy commissioners who could do with a bit of sorting out.” Naqvi later became the chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau under Musharraf and dismantled the British-era commissionerate system altogether.

And then there was the man who truly terrorised the bureaucracy: ZAB.

“The visit of the prime minister to various parts of the province had driven the administration into a state of frenzy. Phone calls were made to deputy commissioners of districts which Bhutto had already visited and every possible detail elicited. Each aspect of the itinerary was carefully examined and all eventualities catered for. No deputy commissioner wanted to be caught napping, as Bhutto’s annoyance could spell disaster.”

Civilian or uniformed, PML (N, Q or whatever) or PPP, the 70s or the 2000s — they’ve all bent the bureaucracy to their will, governance be damned. And the crafty among the bureaucracy have figured out how to pad their nests and puff out their chests in front of the public while bowing and scraping before their political masters.

How does anyone run a country like this? You don’t really. You preside over a mess that ends up like the Pakistan of today.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com