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December 6, 2019

Dangling decisions, deficient development

Business

December 6, 2019

LAHORE: After constant failed experimentations the present regime has learnt its lesson though very late. A case in point is its reverting to the same bureaucracy in Punjab that was deemed faithful to Shahbaz Sharif. Bureaucrats are loyal to the government of day and not individuals.

In the first 15 months of its rule the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government almost lost its grip on Punjab at it tried to post those bureaucrats in the province, who had not served in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawz (PML-N) regime. In fact the party was also allergic to those posted in Punjab during Pervaiz Elahi’s era. By posting new bureaucracy in the province the government was expecting good administrative results as well. It also did not show the patience to allow the new comers to settle down. Most of them were transferred from important posts within three to four months of posting.

At the same time the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) started registering cases against the bureaucrats that performed duties in the previous government. Their administrative decisions, if backfired, were taken as corruption. The end result was noticed but no one bothered whether the orders were given according to the rules or not. This frightened the new bureaucrats posted against those posts. They started delaying decisions as they were not prepared to take the responsibility in case something went wrong, despite abiding by all rules and regulations.

This experiment of changing the entire bureaucracy failed. Some capable bureaucrats posted in Punjab thought the new government would go by merit and would not ask for undue favors. These bureaucrats were placed at responsible offices because they were very upright and had the courage to refuse to accommodate unlawful instructions of previous rules.

They thought this trait of going by the rules would be appreciated by the new government. But they were wrong the episodes of district police officer (DPO) Depalpur and inspector general (IG) Islamabad made it clear nothing has changed for bureaucracy and they are bound to please the ruling elite. In case of IG Islamabad the gentleman himself requested the court to let him relinquish the post as the federal government did not want him to do it. Then there were some deputy commissioners who released the written illegal demands of some lawmakers to the media. They were also taken to task.

If this government was determined to operate the same ways as their predecessors did, there was no need to uproot the bureaucracy frequently. The bureaucracy that worked under Pervaiz Elahi and Shahbaz Shariff was almost the same. In fact Pervaiz Elahi after assuming the post of chief minister Punjab brought back those bureaucrats who had been working under Shahbaz Shariff in 1999.

These bureaucrats delivered. His era was not as dynamic as that of Shahbaz, but much better than the current chief minister Punjab. The bureaucracy guided him to take prudent steps. He introduced 1122 emergency services, started warden system in traffic police and launched state-of-the-art Industrial Estate under the name of Sundar.

When Shahbaz assumed power in 2008 the bureaucracy that worked under him was posted in federal ministries. He groomed the new lot in his style.

He was untiring and used to call top bureaucrats at 4 or 5 am in the morning to stay posted on what was going on. He gave them tasks and asked for the progress the next day. He was relentless and was able to develop bureaucrats that knew how to deliver. He kept a strict eye on the development works to ensure the projects are completed in time. His execution of development work was so efficient that even the Chinese used to call development in Punjab as ‘Punjab speed’ which was speedier than even the Chinese. The only drawback Shahbaz had was he could not build and strengthen the institutions in the province. He used to poke his nose in every department and it was through his fear that departments worked somewhat efficiently. No Shahbaz, no inefficiency. Thus he might have been a good administrator but the governance was better due to fear factor and not because of doing everything by the book.

The incumbent chief minister of Punjab lacks the capacity to govern and does not seem to be a hard worker. Bureaucrats could never fool Shahbaz but they hoodwink the current one every day. His monitoring of the development projects is far from satisfactory.

He is constantly under pressure of being replaced by someone else although Prime Minister has time and again demonstrated his unwavering support for him. The new bureaucratic setup may look better than the previous ones but bureaucrats perform on the passion and commitment of their head of the province.