Lopsided institutional performance in Pakistan under different chiefs shows that institutional weaknesses are mainly due to flawed selection of human resource. Ten years back, Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) was delivering and currently Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) is on the move.
The basic structure of all institutions remains the same, but their performance has always been subjected to the commitment and dedication shown by people who head them. When Khalid Mirza was the chairman of the CCP, it penalised businesses heavily for anti-competitive policies.
When the businesses took refuge of stay orders, it was Khalid Mirza and then his successor Rahat Konain who regularly pursued the cases in courts. Since these two completed their tenures, we have rarely heard about cases pending for almost 10 years. The penalties on anti-competitive behaviours are mild and few.
The present regime assumed power on the promise to address the problem of load shedding by the end of its tenure. It was badly depending on the availability of at least 2,500MW to 3,000MW of hydropower as many projects were stated to be in final stages of completion. The government needed a strong and committed man at the helm of affairs at Wapda. The sitting chairman at that time could not bear the pressure of the ruling elite and resigned.
The regime brought one of its most trusted and experienced bureaucrat to head Wapda with the hope that he would ensure completion of 1,400MW Tarbela 4th extension and 969MW Neelum-Jehlum much before 2018.
To their utter frustration they found that there was almost no progress on both the projects. In panic they appointed a retired army general to head the water and power authority.
The general took the challenge and worked overtime to remove the bottlenecks that overly delayed the project. He negotiated an agreed schedule for completion of different parts of the project.
A mechanism of internal monitoring was put in place that kept an eye on itemised progress. In his nine-month tenure, he visited the Neelum-Jehlum, and Tarbela site more times than the combined visits of the previous three chairmen.
The first unit of the project would be functional in February 2018, second in March 2018 and third in April 2018. There was no progress on Tarbela 1,400MW but hectic visits and monitoring has ensured that its first power unit would be operative in December, while the remaining two would be operational by August 2018.
Progress is also visible on all other water and power projects. We cannot commend the Prime Minister on his choice. It was a fluke that he performed. The previous two did not.
It has been proved time and again that the erratic performance of national institutions is due to lack of commitment at the top. Our rulers must realise that these crucial appointments cannot be left on the discretion of a single person.
Khalid Mirza was appointed on this discretion and the appointment of the present Wapda chief was also because the Prime Minister exercised his discretion.
But then he exercised the same discretion while appointing previous Wapda chiefs or the current chairmen of CCP, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).
Some have delivered and others have not lived up to the expectation. The regulatory institutions are of vital importance for the economy, and such important appointments should not be left at the discretion of a single person.
There should be set criteria for such appointments, and persons who qualify for all regulatory posts should be shortlisted through interviews by persons of unblemished integrity. The Prime Minister should only have the discretion to appoint anyone from persons shortlisted by the panel of experts.
The World Bank suggested this procedure during the last Pakistan Peoples’ Party regime, but it was rejected. This government has already experienced the drawback of the use of current discretionary powers and should introduce a system whereby any regulatory post is immediately filled after removal/retirement of a post within three days.
The institutions would continue to perform erratically if a transparent system of appointments is not ensured.
The writer is a staff member