While these transfers have a demoralizing effect on the bureaucracy, they also have a financial cost
Frequent transfers and postings in bureaucracy have been a perennial issue and so far no clear cut parameters have been defined for this purpose. While these transfers have a demoralizing effect on the bureaucracy, they also have a financial cost. Those transferred are normally given a transfer package that includes one month’s extra salary and cost of transportation and shifting of household belongings.
This means that if a person who should have been ideally transferred after working on a post for at least three years is transferred six times during this period, he or she is entitled to avail this package six times instead of once. Ordinary citizens have the right to challenge this practice because these funds come from the money deposited in government treasury in the form of taxes. However, the citizens hardly use their right to question in this context and stay detached.
A major issue in this context is that the perks and privileges enjoyed by civil servants appointed to various posts and at different locations are different. This means that there are certain posts that are more lucrative than others, and tempt the officers to vie for them. One such incentive is holding a residential property having a high rental value. So, it is not always the political elite behind transfers and postings. On many occasions, the officers themselves are running after certain posts.
It was in this context that Dr Nadeem ul Haq recommended the monetizing of the perks enjoyed by bureaucrats. In the current situation, the actual value of such perks is high and a burden on government resources. One can well imagine the rental/market value of a 40 kanal colonial-era bungalow occupied by a deputy commissioner or district police officer (DPO) of a district.
In a study of a reasonable sample size of civil servants, Haq points out that eight per cent of them have the privilege of getting government-owned accommodation such as houses, bungalows or apartments located in posh areas of metropolitan centres; 20 per cent are living in government acquired accommodations and the rest, 72 per cent are getting house rent allowance which is equivalent to 45 per cent of basic pay in Islamabad and some big cities and 30 per cent of the basic pay in smaller cities.
The luckiest ones, in his opinion, are those occupying coveted official housing such as in the posh areas of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi that could have a rental value of Rs 300,000. Whereas the allowance paid to a comparable officer, who is not given official housing would be in the range of Rs 45,000, he adds. Besides, he adds, the officer with official housing pays no income tax on the Rs 300,000 compensation he gets while the latter does.
The current government after assuming power had promised to give independence to bureaucracy and free it from the fear of transfers on the behest of politicians and other influential groups. But it seems that the government has adopted a policy of reshuffling bureaucrats without letting them complete their tenures. For example, the KP government has replaced 12 secretaries of information department in six and half years of its two terms.
Exercising its powers, the Punjab government changed almost the entire top bureaucracy in the Punjab in November 2019. The transferred officers included 31 provincial secretaries including home secretary and additional chief secretary, eight out of nine divisional commissioners and 31 deputy commissioners. One must recall that during the first year of PTI’s government, PM Imran Khan had addressed civil servants and said that “I assure you that we will protect our bureaucracy from political pressure” and that “quick postings and transfers are the most disruptive for governments.” The practice seems otherwise.
Transfers in police get the most attention due to their exposure to public. Under the Police Order 2002, the transfers and postings of senior police officers in the province were the responsibility of the inspector general of police (IGP) but in practice the chief minister (CM) is performing this function. As per a report compiled on the directive of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) in 2016, the average tenure of an Inspector General of Police (IGP) is less than 12 months, of a district police chief nearly six months and of a Station House Officer (SHO) less than three months. The report was supposed to identify issues in the policing system and make suggestions regarding police reforms in the country.
Omar Babar, a Lahore-based journalist, says that he studied the case of 80 sub divisional police officers (SDPOs), who are assistant superintendants of police (ASPs) or deputy superintendants of police (DSPs) and found that there transfers would on average cost between Rs 125,000 and Rs 150,000 per person. This amount includes Rs 40,000 to Rs 45,000 for shifting of luggage, transportation cost per kilometre travelled to new place of posting and one basic salary. Spending a large portion of the budget on non-productive activities leaves little fiscal space for the department to improve its working, Babar adds.
A Grade 18 officer in Punjab government says, on conditions of anonymity, that there is a proper economy of transfers and postings where these carry price tags. Officers get prized posts and a free hand to earn enough return on the investments they have made in getting these jobs.
Rai Manzoor Nasir, the former president of Punjab Provincial Management Services (PMS) Association, says ideally the tenure of officers should not be too long or too short. He says in both cases, the efficiency of officers is affected. When people are allowed to work in the same positions for too long, they develop relations with stakeholders and become powerful enough to use the system for their own benefit. If they do not, they hardly get the knowhow about the duties assigned to them. Early transfers, he says, are one major reason why projects are delayed and additional costs incurred because the new appointees to important posts take time to learn about the projects or redesign them according to their own understanding.
The author is a staffer and can be reached at [email protected]