Countries like Pakistan struggle for reforms because they struggle with perception more than the dearth of resources required to deliver on these reforms.
Most of the decisions the government takes cannot be termed entirely as informed or more appropriately intelligent decisions because of the perception factor backed by abnormal public reaction to the same. This engages government machinery in a rut of routine affairs and quick fixes.
Take torrential rains for example; the explanation by the chairperson of the PPP was quite logical but it was made fun of. Rains flood modern cities all over the world but the moment it rains in our country, we start comparing our country with modern countries – that too without any clue.
We want government machinery to dry out cities miraculously even before the rain stops. This does not rid government machinery or public representatives of their duties to ensure drying of ponding points, but this asks for bigger questions at the same time.
We do not speak for climate change, and all we do is just demand from the government to clean our streets and drains which we actually clog with our plastic bags and whatnot. This does not stop here. We also complain why the government provides new vehicles to field staff. We want them to fight their administrative battles without equipping them with what is required for the battle.
There are numerous foreign-qualified officers in the civil bureaucracy; there are doers, and there are self-motivated officers — both seniors and juniors. There are excellent public-sector managers who should be empowered to create public value without the fear of public perception.
Chief secretaries of all provinces should devise a performance enhancement mechanism for field officers and administrative secretaries. And while this was done in the past, how effective these methods can be is debatable. After completing their foreign degrees and training, they should not be confined to revenue recoveries and other routine tasks.
Officers are (and should be) expected to create public value. Mark H Moore explains in his book ‘Creating Public Value’, published by Harvard University Press, that public-sector managers should be restless and have value-seeking imaginations.
This entrepreneurial style of management should be backed by fair public accountability. But then the question arises: is our system favourable enough to enable public managers to create public value? It is not. But this should not be an excuse because when there is a will, there is always a way.
A young deputy commissioner from Punjab’s most populous district Lahore has established a dedicated strategic reforms unit (SRU). This DC’s SRU covers 10 key goals to achieve in the short and long terms. The SRU’s ten main goals cover tree plantation, clean air, solid waste management, beautification of city, water conservation, energy conservation, youth engagement, cultural and heritage promotion, inclusive society and indigenous production.
Under these ten umbrella goals, the DC’s SRU has officially launched a series of activities starting from the Rising Star school improvement programme and youth engagement in sports to women’s empowerment. Just like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the SRU’s goals have sub-goals and tracking mechanisms but it caters to local context and international compliance at the same time.
In the past, former chief minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif set up a strategic reforms unit which was headed by Salman Sufi. The current SRU model is a district-based programme that the chief secretary of Punjab should replicate across all districts of the province.
Strategic goals and objectives to improve on governance and create public value shall eventually benefit people in the long run. This entrepreneurial style of management shall keep officers on toes and keep their excitement alive.
The writer is a freelance journalist. He has also served as a media adviser to the World Bank and Unicef-funded healthcare and tourism-related projects in Punjab. He tweets EAAgop