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May 8, 2020

Fake cases gagging service delivery


May 8, 2020

LAHORE: Pakistan is fighting the coronavirus battle with a crippled and fearful bureaucracy that has further increased red tape at all levels. The bureaucrats fear accountability even on decisions they take with good intent.

This government rightly claimed that it inherited a rotten system. However, it was at least a workable system and not the crippled one like we are witnessing these days.

There was no flaw in rules and regulations, and the main hurdles were at the implementation stage and on interpretation of certain rules. These shortcomings needed fine tuning and not selective witch hunting.

Look at the case of Ahad Cheema, who was the main force to complete Lahore Metro in record time and below budget. He is under arrest on NAB’s unproved accusations of fraud of few hundred million.

Compared with that, those who took the cost of Peshawar Rapid Transport to more than double the original estimate and still did not complete it are not touched. In this case, we are talking about corruption of Rs20-40 billion.

In Cheema’s unproved case, the corruption accusation is much less than the amount he saved from the original cost of Lahore Metro.

This and many other similar cases have demoralised the hard working bureaucrats. The government itself does not trust the bureaucracy, as it refuses to carry out illegal orders.

This is the reason that it could not file the bogus case against Jang Group Chief Editor Mir Shakil Ur Rehman through the bureaucracy, and took refuge of NAB and continues to keep him under arrest for almost two months now.

This distrust is evident even in the pandemic relief work. People in distress are not getting the announced relief timely as bureaucracy is not completely on board.

In such massive relief effort, chances of mistakenly providing relief to wrong person cannot be ruled out. But bureaucrats fearful of repercussion are moving extra cautiously in providing relief.

That is delaying the relief efforts. The induction of Corona Tiger Force has made their work more difficult, as they are expected to endorse the relief recommended by the tigers.

Bureaucracy world over operates under same rules and regulations that are in vogue in Pakistan. The only difference is that they are accountable for their deeds and dare not break any rule on the instructions of the ruling elite.

They also enjoy discretionary powers, but in using those powers they have to pen down a plausible reason. Accountability is on misuse of power or violation of rules or undue favours provided to a few and denied to others.

There is full transparency in decisions. Bureaucrats lose jobs and even face jail terms in case of deviation from their duty. It is the bureaucracy that runs government under set rules and on clear guidance provided within the law to the ruling party.

In case of emergency or crisis, the bureaucrats use their discretionary powers in the interest of public good. If for instance certain medicine is needed during a pandemic, they would buy minimum immediate requirement at retail price from open market and then go through the long procedure of filling the indent and waiting for days for the supplies.

Under current circumstances, can a bureaucrat dare do that? This government had to relax PEPRA rules to place immediate orders for ventilators and other needed gadgets to ensure early deliveries of relief goods.

A bureaucrat cannot do this on many items needed during emergency and let the public suffer instead of facing trials when he falls out of favour after few years.

No chief executive of a country has power to order arrest of any individual or harass him. Everything has to be done under the ambit of law.

In Pakistan the rulers want the bureaucracy to fix their political opponents through implicit orders.

Failure to carry out orders may result in the transfer of the bureaucrat to a far flung area. This power has been used by every government including incumbents.

When ruling elite asks for unlawful favours then the bureaucrats feel free to break rules for some personal gains.

Bureaucracy is much better equipped to handle this current crisis more efficiently because almost all senior bureaucrats have in their career handled flood emergencies and the earthquake that hit northern Pakistan in 2005. The magnitude of the task is enormous, but it cannot be handled without the full cooperation of bureaucracy.