GOVERNANCE in Pakistan has gone haywire. No, this state of affairs is not due to the ubiquitous Gullu Butt, but has resulted more from the lack of institution-building over so many years. The reason for this failure to strengthen institutions can be traced to those in the corridors of power who want a piece of the pie for their personal benefit.

A nexus between politicians and bureaucrats ensures there are plenty of pies to go around. Meanwhile, gullible masses are made to believe each time that, finally, there is something concrete in the works but all they get is the proverbial pie in the sky, nothing else.

Falling in this category is the idea to introduce a new cadre of bureaucrats known as the National Executive Service (NES). The justification for this step, as given by the minister for planning and development, is that the bureaucracy brain drain has risen to such alarming proportions that the Planning Commission, despite repeatedly inviting applications through newspapers, has not been able to find a suitable person for the position of chief economist.

A new cadre of ‘super’ bureaucrats is a useless idea.
The said post has been lying vacant for several years now. This, he said, was because the pay scale (Rs400,000 per month) MP-1 (management position) offered by the government for private-sector professionals was acceptable only to mid-level executives and not senior professionals. Hence, the government is considering the introduction of NES, a super service of super bureaucrats with super pay scales.

The policymakers again seem to have lost the plot as it is not only money, if it is that at all, that is the consideration of top professionals. To explain what I mean, let me share something from Cosmic Anger, Dr Abdus Salam’s biography by Gordon Fraser.

Abdus Salam declined a research position at Princeton (which of course paid a lot more) and returned to Lahore in 1951, where he joined Government College as professor and chairman of the mathematics department. According to his biographer, Mr Salam was not well received by his colleagues, partly because of anti-Ahmadi sentiment but largely because they felt threatened.

In the words of Fraser, Salam was seen as “a young upstart, too big for his boots, a high-flying student who had escaped the double trauma of the partition of a country and a province”.

His colleagues resorted to political and administrative manoeuvring and like all men of substance the great physicist neither had the time nor the inclination to indulge in petty politics. Therefore, he returned to Cambridge within two years and the rest, as they say, is history. Sadly, in Pakistan things have not changed much since then; in fact, they have become worse.

Men of excellence are not sycophants, and sycophants are not men of excellence. A true professional would not be obsequious towards the daughter of the prime minister or the son of a chief minister, just because of their parent’s status. Furthermore, examples such as the removal of a State Bank governor if he tries to exercise some inflationary control on the sweet will of the financial wizards do not make the task of attracting top professionals to work for the government any easier.

Similarly, the government machinery provides for very limited freedom of action and span of control for technocrats. Top professionals from the corporate world are known to set tangible goals and then achieve them. Conversely, our mainstream bureaucracy is stuck in the last century.

In its current form, the bureaucracy is good at creating ambivalence at best. In the corporate world, it is all about responsibility and accountability whereas in the bureaucratic world, responsibility is never pinpointed, thus diluting accountability. The two streams are like east and west — they never really meet.

Also, our high-

flying, well-placed bureaucrats who are part of the prevalent system think of themselves as the rightful heirs to positions of power, and any outsider no matter how competent he or she may be, is considered a threat to their dominion and all efforts are made to render him or her ineffective.

The NES would only provide new grazing grounds for top-level bureaucrats as it has been indicated that secretary-level bureaucrats would have the option to join the NES if they are up to the mark, and the benchmark, as is always the case in Pakistan, would be defined by the extent of servility towards ‘royalty’.

Rather than lofty ideas such as creating the NES which would achieve nothing more than making the affluent class of bureaucrats more affluent, the government needs to inject some money into the lower levels of bureaucracy.

Better remuneration and working conditions should be provided to civil servants at junior levels who live and work in deplorable conditions and often struggle to make ends meet. The policymakers — both politicians and bureaucrats for once need to focus on people rather than the pie.