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Saturday November 26, 2022

Right person for the right job

September 27, 2022

The recent devastating floods in Pakistan have caused the largest displacement of people, dislodgement of animals and an acute shortage of food. Hundreds of thousands of people have become homeless, millions of acres of agricultural land inundated, and crops swept away. The death toll has been high and countless domestic animals have withered away.

Farmers say that the recent floods have taken them 50 years back in time. It is necessary for us to forget all our differences and work together to cope with this catastrophe, which demands solution-oriented actions on a war footing.

Pakistan currently faces the worst kind of power and energy crises and water scarcity. Our superior courts have held that rights to have water, electricity and gas constitute the penumbras to the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental ‘right to life’.

The root causes of the present state of affairs are bad governance and lack of risk assessment. Time demands introspection to tailor problem-based planning and resolution-oriented actions. A short-term solution may help secure political popularity for the time being, but it will irreversibly affect the economy, security and politics.

The federal and provincial governments lack professional knowledge, technical knowhow, requisite capacity and competence to effectively respond to these challenges. The positions at the level of policymaking are unfortunately occupied by generalists who simply lack technical knowledge associated with the challenges Pakistan faces.

In this era of artificial intelligence, information technology and highly advanced specialization, the developed world and some developing countries employ these advanced tools for natural resource management, human resource development and advancement in other spheres. But Pakistan still counts upon an outmoded bureaucratic system of the colonial era. Red tape and lack of initiative and technical knowledge are the major flaws of the existing system.

Pakistan desperately needs a public service founded on the globally accepted norm of the right person for the right job’, which is a system to house high-profile experts with professional zeal, technical knowledge and competence. It will help diagnose national problems in advance, make timely planning, design result-oriented solutions and implement the decision before a problem arises. Pakistan needs an able public service at all levels.

In the last 75 years, our policymakers could not reorient the contours of policymaking in tune with international norms. Even though the wisdom of the elected elite does matter, the elected class comes and goes in modern democracies. The existence of long-term policies with a merit-oriented public service in place matters the most. Public service led by high-profile, experienced and intelligent technocrats acts as a national think tank which can set the clock right every time by adequate advisory to their political bosses on every issue of national import.

Our policymakers have neglected to focus on the construction of big, medium and small dams to preserve water resources and generate hydropower; large-scale forestation to protect the environment; the upkeep of natural water courses open and uninterrupted for rainwater, flood water and glacial melt; the regular lining of national water courses; installation of waste treatment plants at industries and monitoring to save national water from being polluted; they have opted for extensively pumping water out of the ground instead of using rainwater and glacial melt.

Policymakers have also neglected the ban on stone-crushing factories near rivers and canals to save national waters. They have failed to select naturally adequate high places from upstream north to downstream south to install turbines to generate hydropower, making solar energy and generating electricity through windmills to add the sum total of this green energy to the national grid. They have not used millions of acres of land to cultivate distinct crops and fruit that are essential for not only national food security but also exports to earn foreign exchange. All this did not occur for want of the right person for the right job.

The Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) established under the Pakistan Engineering Council Act, 1976 as an apex regulator of engineers and engineering work is a think tank to assist the federal government. Its aim is to make engineering a key driving force for achieving rapid and sustainable growth in all national, economic and social fields as the preamble to the PEC Act, 1976 suggests.

In the Federal Government (Rules of Business), businesses conducted by certain ministries and divisions fall within the purview of professional engineering work as defined in the PEC Act. Businesses allocated under the Provincial Governments (Rules of Business) to a number of departments fall within the definitional boundaries of professional engineering work.

Within the contemplation of the PEC Act 1976, federal ministries and divisions and provincial departments qualify as engineering organizations: professional engineering work can only be undertaken by engineers. Thus, policymaking and decision-making regarding insurmountable challenges Pakistan faces ought to be devised by engineers and their implementation must be carried out by engineers as described by the PEC Act. The federal and provincial governments must follow the PEC Act and appoint engineers for the posts that require their skills.

We have witnessed the adverse results of a generalist approach towards the highly technical challenges being faced by the nation since 1947. Their touristic approaches could not bear fruit because such people would take cosmetic decisions which may be politically popular but practically meaningless.

Governance means the process of correct decision-making and its timely implementation to secure the desired results. Technocrats, especially engineers and scientists with relevant technical knowledge, qualifications and expertise are excluded from the policymaking process. This has led, and will always lead, to bad governance.

The writer is a lawyer and partner at a law firm based in Islamabad and Peshawar.

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