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Top Story

August 8, 2018
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Curing ills of governance requires political will, not funds: experts

Top Story

August 8, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: A government in Pakistan does not require huge amount of funds or committees of experts but political will and firm determination to cure the ills of governance.

Over the past 70 years, more than 20 commissions and committees were formed and studies and recommendations were made to successive governments but mostly the suggested reforms remain unimplemented because of political reasons and owing to rulers’ unwillingness to depoliticise the bureaucracy.

History of civil service reforms shows that more than the civil bureaucracy, the political leadership and rulers (both democratic and dictators) have been the major hurdle to improving the system as they have not been prepared to restrain themselves from interfering in the bureaucratic affairs.

At least six studies of civil service reforms were conducted from 1996 to 2008, mostly during General Musharraf’s dictatorship, pointing out the real ills of the civilian bureaucracy. But all these studies were shelved as even the dictator avoided to depoliticise the bureaucracy because of personal political gains.

A detailed reforms package was prepared by the National Commission on Government Reforms led by former Governor State Bank of Pakistan and WB ex-top official Dr Ishrat Hussain during Musharraf's tenure. However, neither Musharraf nor his handpicked prime minister Shaukat Aziz had shown any interest to look into the report.

During the last PML-N regime, the Planning Commission was assigned to work on administrative reforms to improve the governance but despite spending millions of rupees, the recommendations prepared were not even discussed by the cabinet.

Imran Khan, who has won the 2018 election and is expected to take oath of the office of prime minister within a fortnight's time, also promises to reform administration and improve governance. There are some critically important areas requiring immediate attention of the new government, which can successfully address the issues only if it has the resolve and political will to do so.

According to a senior government servant, the civil service reforms would remain a far cry unless the new prime minister and his cabinet decide to reform themselves and stop interfering in the service matters of the bureaucracy. He warned that without depoliticisation of the civilian bureaucracy, no reform, no committee, no commission would work.

The ills of the civil bureaucracy are known and clearly identified in almost every past report of the commissions and committees. The Pakistani bureaucracy, which once used to be known for its efficiency and competence, has primarily been ruined by decades’ long politicisation.

During the last PPP regime, the special parliamentary committee led by Senator Raza Rabbani on the 18th Constitutional Amendment, had considered the issue of providing constitutional protection to civil servants from political interference. But the political parties had decided against it, clearly discussing that this would make the bureaucrats get out of politicians’ control.

It is said that one simple decision of a prime minister could act as a major step towards the depoliticisation of bureaucracy and improvement in governance. This step will empower the Establishment Division to act independently and without any external pressure, even that of the PM's office, in the personnel management and career planning of civil servants.

Let the Establishment Division act as Military Secretary’s Branch of the GHQ. There should be an immediate end to postings and transfers of officers on the basis of connections and requisition. The Establishment Division should be allowed to play its actual role of choosing the right person for the right job.

Empowerment and revival of the Establishment Division neither require funding nor any reform committee but the prime minister’s complete backing and protection to act as the lead personnel management body of the country.

Pakistan’s criminal justice system -- from police to prosecution, courts and judges -- is another area which requires correction to save large number of people from the exploitation of FIR system to court matters.

Interestingly, the PML-N government’s Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf had worked on the subject in detail but he could not get the support of the government to reform the system.

The reforms package, prepared by Ausaf, included improving the FIR system, overhauling prosecution service, creation of legal service, new federal law to deal with the scourge of terrorism, speedy disposal of court cases by blocking frivolous litigation, reviewing multi-tier appeal system, introduction of alternate dispute resolution system, and assigning Nadra to issue succession certificate, etc.

An amendment was proposed to condition registration of a First Investigation Report (FIR) or making of a complaint to complete investigation as is in the case of the Federal Investigation Agency.

The present FIR system is highly exploitative where innocents are named in an FIR and the police without any probe and proof, arrest those nominated in the FIR.

To curb excessive and widespread misuse of the present flawed FIR system, the Law Ministry recently had drafted a reforms bill to punish those who falsely name others in police reports. However, the fate of the draft law is not known.

Regarding delays in court cases, it is said that the cases are adjourned on the slightest of inconveniences to either party, which in any other jurisdiction would carry grave consequences. It is said that upto 80% of Pakistan’s civil case load is to do with land acquisition and titling disputes, with a tremendous percentage of those disputes arising out of land grabbing and misappropriation of property.

To address these problems, a comprehensive computerised system of land title is required to be worked on at both the provincial and federal government levels, to attempt to cure the root cause of so much of our litigation.

There was a decision taken during the last government to introduce the system of costs of litigation, regardless of which litigant is ultimately victorious; however, there is no implementation of it on the ground. A law was also introduced for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system, whereby matters which may be taken before a judge are settled by parties through their legal representatives out of court.

In most developed jurisdictions, the ADR is frequently employed as a valued tool to avoid lengthy and costly litigation. Pakistan is a latecomer in recognising value of the ADR as a means to mitigate the misery inflicted by long, contentious court battles. However, this system is also not seen on the ground as yet.

It has also been under consideration to limit the process of appeals in the Pakistani judicial system. It is said that the present fora are manifold and revisional: First, the civil court, second, the additional district judges, third, the high court, fourth, intra-court appeal (in some matters), and then the Supreme Court.

It gives massive headache to a citizen when he faces so much problems in obtaining a succession certificate from a court of law. The ordeal of getting succession certificate takes almost six months to a year, with such cases constituting nearly 20% of the total backlog.

According to an early official study, this load from court could be undone forthwith by giving Nadra the authority and power to do the needful in non-contentious matters. However, the required mechanism has not yet been evolved.

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