Honeymoon Over, Reality Sets In! (Editorial December 2018)

Honeymoon Over, Reality Sets In

“Starting over can be challenging, but also it can be a great opportunity to do things differently.” — Catherine Pulsifer

A lot of hullabaloo by opposition, much-hyped austerity drive, euphoria over 5 million homes and 10 million new jobs, slogans of strict accountability, economic upheaval, plummeting of stock exchange, rupee in a freefall, judicial activism, TLP’s sit-in that brought the country to a standstill for days, re-emergence of terrorism (Chinese consulate attack, blast in Hangu, abduction and brutal murder of senior police officer Tahir Dawar, assassination of a towering religious figure Maulana Samiul Haq), unearthing of transactions worth billions of rupees from fake accounts, Prime Minister’s quick sojourns to China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and UAE, peace overtures towards India, thaw in Pak-Russia relations and a brief tweet war between US President and Pakistani premier: this is what we have seen during the first hundred days of the incumbent government led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf with its supremo Imran Khan at the helm as Prime Minister. For opponents a disaster, for supporters remarkable and promising; PTI’s performance in its ‘honeymoon period’ is, realistically speaking, something in between these two extremes.

There is no blinking at the fact that Prime Minister Khan took the reins of the country at a time when it was faced with an acute financial crisis left behind by the previous government in the form of a financing gap of 10-12 billion dollars. Economists and financial experts had been persistently arguing that we have no option but to seek an IMF bailout, but the new government wavered on making a final decision in this regard – it cost dearly to the country in the form of currency devaluation and bears dominating the trading screens at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX). A $12 billion Saudi package came as a much-needed, though temporary, relief. China and UAE have also, reportedly, pledged billions of dollars in aid and soft loans to resuscitate the economy of Pakistan. The omens are good: economy would be on the right track soon.

However, one issue that the previous governments have deliberately held in abeyance, and the incumbent also seems following in their footsteps, is the reformation of bureaucracy. If a government does not have all-out support of this fraternity – the implementation arm of the Executive – no government can promote its vision as the bureaucratic hurdles, or the idiomatic red tape, will keep on impeding the process, no matter what it costs the country. PM Khan did the right thing when he reached out to the civil servants and told them that “without their help the agenda of his government would be rendered useless. He told them, “I am only concerned about your performance. If you work in a dedicated manner, I will stand by you irrespective of your political affiliations.” But, it takes two to tango; if bureaucrats are expected to perform to their best, they must be appointed, transferred and promoted on the basis of merit and merit only; no personal whims should be involved in the process.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a case filed by Ms Raana Ahmed of Inland Revenue Service (IRS) against the denial of promotion to her by the government, unequivocally decided: “Exercise of powers cannot be arbitrary, capricious and whimsical. In fact, if the persons are not promoted in accordance with the seniority and record, the reasons must be objective and justiceable.”

This verdict is the line the government should toe while dealing with the bureaucracy and making transfers and postings of the civil servants. If right person is there on the right job, only then PM’s dream of making a ‘Naya Pakistan’ would come true. The Prime Minister should personally chair the meetings of the Central Selection Board (CSB) – it is constituted by the Federal Government for the purpose of selection for promotion or transfer to posts in BPS 19 to BPS 21 and equivalent – instead of assigning this task to some of his assistants or secretaries – as has been done by previous premiers – so that only the rightfully deserving officers get to the top.

Moreover, it has been observed that during the recent years, the office of Principal Secretary to Prime Minister (to Chief Minister in provinces) has become omnipotent; calling the shots in matters of promotions, transfers and postings. Former PS to PM is an oft-quoted example in this regard as he held three CSB meetings in a single year despite that according to service rules, the CSB meeting should be held every six months. He promoted his personal friends to lucrative posts, to the ridicule of merit.

In Pakistan’s bureaucratic hierarchy, the centre of power is the office of Secretary Establishment Division at the federal level and Chief Secretary at provincial level. But, these good offices have been rendered useless and peripheral and this has been the principal reason behind despair and distress that is prevalent among bureaucrats nowadays.

In addition, the PM should also pay attention to reforming the Federal Public Service Commission as this is the body that recruits new civil servants, the next generation of top bureaucrats. The appointment of Mr Haseeb Athar as Chairman FPSC gives a much-needed hope that the government will not capitulate to personal whims and wishes of some big enchiladas as it means business and only business. Mr Athar is known to be a man of principles having years of administrative experience to his credit. It is earnestly hoped that he will work to bring transparency in FPSC affairs, especially those related to CSS exam.

The Commission has been subjected to severe criticism by various circles, including media, for persistently poor CSS results, though the blame actually goes to problems in the higher education sector. Since the new chairman has previously served as Federal Secretary Education and Professional Training, he has firsthand information on, and experience of dealing with, those issues. So, we have every reason to believe that he will work expeditiously to ameliorate the situation. More power to your elbow, Mr Chairman!

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