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February 18, 2015

Political cons and white-collar crooks

Opinion

February 18, 2015

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif hit the nail right on the head when the other day he stressed the need for depoliticising the Sindh police with a view to shoring up its performance. Be that as it may, it is not only in Sindh that the law-enforcement personnel are politicised. The civil service in all parts of the country is by and large afflicted with this malaise.
In modern democracies, the civil service is supposed to be a non-political institution, which is loyal to the state rather than to the party in power. Politicisation of this institution not only violates its independence and professionalism but also runs counter to public interest.
Depoliticisation does not mean that civil servants should not be responsible to elected representatives or the political executive, or that the former can work in disregard of the policy put in place by the latter. The permanent executive, on the contrary, cannot work responsibly and efficiently unless it is made accountable to the political executive and through it to parliament for the way it carries out public policies and general administration.
A distinction, however, needs to be drawn between accountability to a person and that to an institution, between loyalty to public interest and that exclusively to a political party. Civil servants get politicised when they enthrone loyalty to a political party over that to public interest or obedience to a person over that to the law. For sure, it is beyond the call of duty for a civil servant to make or break a government, strengthen or weaken a political party, or reward or penalise a political figure.
In a free, democratic political society, the bureaucracy is a public service institution. However, politicisation of the bureaucracy makes it an agency of political victimisation and patronage. In countries where democracy has not taken root and politicians have not learnt to respect democratic norms, those holding the reins of power leave no stone unturned to weaken

their rivals and in civil servants they find a convenient and effective means towards that end. Use of administrative machinery to harass political rivals, deny them political rights and implicate them in cooked up cases is endemic in such political societies or states.
Pakistan is one such state, where political immaturity and politicisation of the civil service have gone hand in hand. In a mature democracy, power is preserved by strengthening political institutions and delivering the goods to the people. But this requires a strong link between the ruling party and the masses.
In our country, such a link is weakened when a political party enters the corridors of power. It becomes so much embroiled in power politics that it becomes oblivious of public problems. The result is that the gap between the ruling party and the masses is widened and the former loses its mass appeal. It is through the bureaucracy that the ruling party tries to make up for its lost strength and appeal. By posting its blue-eyed officers in important positions and getting its own agenda implemented through them, the people in power seek to consolidate its position.
This accounts for the fact that any change in the government is invariably followed up by a massive reshuffle in the civil service from a patwari to a chief secretary, from an ASI to an IGP. The officials who are in the good books of new rulers are given prized postings, whereas those not well connected or perceived to be loyal to the opposition are marginalised. Sometimes, there is a serious row in the ruling party itself or between the federal and provincial governments over transfer and posting of civil servants holding important positions. For instance, a major factor that had strained relations between the government of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and that of Nawaz Sharif in Punjab after the restoration of democracy in 1988 was the transfer of the provincial chief secretary.
It is customary for politicians to treat public officials as if they are not the servants of the state but of those wielding power. Any attempt by civil servants to bring the high and mighty within the discipline of law is deemed an unpardonable act.
This does not mean that politicians are demons and bureaucrats are angels and that the bureaucracy bears no responsibility for its politicisation. There is no dearth of officers who are more loyal than the king and are keen to dance to the tune of their political patrons. If a political master wants to indulge in corruption, more often than not it is a civil servant working under him that shows him the way. As a rule, behind every political con, there is one or more white-collar crook.
In order to de-politicise the bureaucracy, it is essential that appointments to civil service are made in a fair and transparent way, and that terms of service and transfer of civil servants are governed by definite rules and regulations. Political considerations must be kept apart in this connection.
An officer, for example, should not be transferred because an official of the ruling party gets annoyed with him for failing to carry out the latter’s unlawful orders. Nor should a civil servant be inducted on the ground of his political connections or because he is considered to be obedient enough to carry out each and every order of the men at the helm.
Politicisation of the bureaucracy weakens and spoils that institution. For one thing, it makes the bureaucracy corrupt and inefficient. A police officer who is asked to grab land for some politician will one day do so on his own as well. What is fatal here is the absence of the fear of accountability. When a minister uses his subordinates for wrong purposes, how can he make them accountable for their acts of omission and commission?
Second, in the absence of any definite rule in respect of their term of office, civil servants feel insecure. This sense of insecurity is one reason, and in many cases the major one, that makes them comply with the wishes, fair or foul, of influential quarters. Third, those appointed on political grounds are likely to serve their political masters even at the cost of public interest, because they believe they owe their allegiance to the person or the party which got them appointed and not to the state whose employees they actually are and to which they really owe allegiance.
Fourth, politicisation impairs the bureaucracy’s professionalism. An official who is at the mercy of politicians for his continuing in office is subject to uncertainty. When a powerful person gets angry with him he can be shown the door. In such circumstances, civil servants cannot exhibit precision of action, which is so vital to their professionalism.
This article can be wrapped up with an anecdote. Once a bigwig decided to put in place some police reforms. But he was told that the proposed reforms could not see the light of day, because a majority of policemen from constable to inspector were criminals, who were inducted on political grounds in violation of the rules. When the bigwig decided to give those policemen the boot, he was told that they were appointed by none other but his own party. On hearing that, he swept the idea of reforming the police right under the carpet.
The author is a graduate from a western European university.
Email: [email protected]

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