Thursday July 07, 2022

Governance issues

By Editorial Board
February 17, 2021

The latest show-cause notices issued by the prime minister to senior bureaucrats and officials in Punjab indicates the extent to which the various branches of government are divided. In order to offer good governance to people, it is essential that all wings of government work together. This includes the ministers, the bureaucrats, and those providing leadership to them, such as the chief ministers of provinces and the federal cabinet or the prime minister himself, in the case of the centre. We know that bureaucrats and officers from the lower ranks have staged a protest in Islamabad during which they also demanded an increase in wages of officials up to Grade 22.

There is then obvious disquiet within the bureaucracy, over salaries and also over the manner in which they are being handled. For example, bureaucrats in Punjab are said to be uncomfortable about the sense that essentially decision-making is taking place in Islamabad, and not in Lahore. This adds to the problems they face, making it more difficult for them to make decisions. In the past, there have also been complaints that decision-making on many fronts is impeded by the threat posed by NAB, and the possibility that it will take action even on matters that in the past were considered routine or extremely minor in nature. PM Imran Khan's show-cause notices initially originated from the failure of officers to answer complaints made on the Citizens Portal. However, this seems to be a somewhat trivial matter.

The deeper problems underlying the issue is the failure to develop a working relationship with the bureaucracy and to satisfy officials that if they make decisions they will not face punitive action from NAB or any other forum which is displeased with their decisions. In Punjab, there have also been complaints and a general sense that there is a complete lack of leadership from the top. This then leaves bureaucrats in a kind of situation where they do not know where to turn. If they follow the rules, orders should be coming from the chief minister and the bureaucrats should be following them. If no policies and no sense of direction is given from the provincial leadership, the bureaucrats should not be blamed for a lack of action. What we would seem to need is not show-cause notices, but a discussion over why things are not working as the prime minister expects, and as people are hopeful. This may be a more productive line of action and may bring the kind of unified response we need if the government is to function effectively.