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Fleeting moments

December 9, 2019

The shake-up

Opinion

December 9, 2019

The Punjab bureaucracy has been shuffled like a pack of cards. Adjectives entire, massive and major were used to overhaul the most important class of administration in the last few days and months.

In fact, the bureaucrats have been working with a sense of foreboding because of an omnipotent watchdog that arrests first and asks questions later. Sometimes it arrests and forgets to question or frame charges. Poor detainees are left to pray in solitude.

A bureaucrat or, for that matter, a business executive exercises his initiative and employs his potential only when he enjoys full support and trust of his boss. When a bureaucrat performs his duty in a situation that he thinks his every move is being closely monitored, reminiscent of the character of ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, he constantly looks over his shoulders. Under these conditions, he would function to the bare minimum to pass time and wait for better days.

On the other hand, there’s no dearth of bright, honest and upright bureaucrats who, given a free hand, would deliver beyond the call of duty. Of course, to err is human and only those make mistakes who take decisions. Those who don’t take decisions don’t make mistakes.

Regardless of which political party is in power, people only want to see progress on ground. They no more believe in fanciful political pronouncements through the media; they want to know what the party has to show for its performance in last few months or years.

People don’t trust tall promises made in the future tense; they believe in the present and want to see more action less rhetoric. A vast majority of the population has lost interest in following heated debates on the TV screens; it’s only interested in how and where the next meal will come from to feed the families.

The chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has announced the construction of the Peshawar-D I Khan motorway. It would be a welcome step if it is completed within the stipulated period and opened for public use, unlike the Peshawar BRT. The about 400kms long motorway will go a long way to facilitate comfortable public travel and speedy cargo movement from D I Khan to Peshawar. D I Khan is already linked with Dera Ghazi Khan by the Indus Highway.

After the bureaucratic reshuffle, should we hope that the Orange Line Metro Train in Lahore will soon start operating commercially and expansion of the 10.7km long stretch on Multan Road near Thokar Niaz Beg, called the Hudiara Drain project, finally see its completion? Delayed projects cause more nuisance for the public than if these hadn’t started in the first place.

The problem is that the bureaucracy has turned highly politicised. It quickly senses the mood of its political masters. Unfortunately, politicians show no interest in completing the development projects initiated by previous governments. Nor do the bureaucrats under them – even though some of them may have worked during the tenures of the previous governments and had been instrumental in planning those projects. Consequently, it’s the public that invariably suffers.

Since the heads of many departments have been shuffled, should the public hope that positive changes in governance will be observed? Should we expect that traffic chaos on the roads will end? And deafening pressure-honking, which is one of the main causes of noise pollution, will be controlled? These features of civic life need urgent attention by the authorities. Orderly and disciplined traffic by itself is an advertisement reflecting efficient administration. Will Naya Punjab emerge after the revamping of the bureaucratic system?

Bureaucrats are considered an educated and enlightened class of society. Many of them go abroad to participate in professional courses on taxpayers’ expense. But why is there no change in their working style when they return? They neither introduce positive changes for the betterment of the people nor cut the lengthy bureaucratic procedures.

Ideally, bureaucrats should be posted on pure merit and allowed to function without any political interference. When a bureaucrat develops the moral courage to tell his political boss ‘Sorry sir, what you demand is against the law and I won’t be able to do it’, that would be the day. Is it a utopian thought?

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]