Our bureaucracy mostly worked honestly and effectively till the 1960s. This bureaucratic system was neutral, dedicated, sincere and responsive to people also obedient to the ruling government. But our first-time ‘democracy’ could not bear the relative neutrality and merit-based decisions of civil servants. Z.A.Bhutto, in the guise of so-called ‘reforms’, abolished the constitutional protection provided to the civil servants regarding their tenure in office. It is marked as the start point of ‘political interference’ and devastation of our steel frame. Just within three months of coming to power Z.A.Bhutto ousted 1300 civil servants. Lateral entry was another idea to gain maximum control of the bureaucracy and to ensure the implementation of his policies. Bureaucrats began to be rewarded and punished for their willingness to collude with PPP leaders. The only merit left in the field was to be the loyalty to Pakistan People’s Party. Frequent postings and transfers became the main tools of deploying political power. Rapid turnover of civil servants became a bane of Pakistani politics. Steadily, the walls between the public and private interests were breached. Now the rulers through the rule books at the civil servants with the threat of compulsory retirement, transfer, posting as OSD, etc. Thus began the rot of public services, which is continuing unabated even today. What Bhutto started has been completed by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, and Zardari.
It is the good governance that achieves the rule of law, harmony of society, economic stability and improved living standards of people which can be done by devising effective policies based on merit. The weak governance in Pakistan is a reflection of the deteriorated quality of ruling class and bureaucracy collectively. The directions set out by the ruling class, mostly in their personal interest, by misusing their authority are implemented by the politicized bureaucracy. It has become our national psyche to pass the blame to others for our own inadequacies. It is the height of hypocrisy that first the politicians use the bureaucracy like personal servants and then in the case of failures hide behind the familiar refrain that the bureaucracy is creating hurdles in their way.
The bureaucracy is equally responsible for our national failures. Today’s bureaucracy is absolutely ill-organized. A rule-based, independent and impersonal decision-making is the hallmark of a real independent bureaucracy. Unfortunately, no capability and effectiveness have been left with it to maintain law and order, provide services, administer justice, and bring about prosperity. Their corruption, nepotism and incompetence are now a scourge on Pakistan. Now people are being exploited both by the government and bureaucracy and due to their nexus both the political and administrative wings are badly entangled in corruption. Due to political backing the blue eyed bureaucrats are enjoying the status as rulers as all decisions taken by the government are supposed to be implemented by them. They enjoy lucrative perks and privileges besides opportunity of collecting wealth if they are corrupt. Their assets and wealth are not questioned as most of the bureaucrats have never declared their assets before and after their service even though the declaration is statutorily required.
Honestly, corruption at bureaucratic level was rare till the 1960s as it is now. The then leaders appeared to believe that as long as the man at the top was honest, corruption at lower levels would not do much damage and would remain confined within ignorable limits. Bureaucracy has today become a parasitical force. It is a part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Indifference towards the poor is no longer confined to the lower level officials; even the senior officers seem to be apathetic to them. We have civil servants who do not serve but oppress the poor and who do not uphold the rule of law but join hands with those who cheat the state.
The honest bureaucrats in spite of all the hurdles should not feel insecure and not give in to pressure to do anything against the rules and law. The absence of constitutional protection makes no difference if anybody is honest to his work. They should avoid looking for high perks and lucrative appointments after they retire. They should not become a hostage of plots given by the governments as a bribe to keep them towing the lines.
To rebuild Pakistan, the priority should be to restructure the bureaucracy, because that is the ‘machine’ that maintains law and order, implements public policies and produces services. It needs new codes of ethics for to effectively discharge public responsibilities. The unfair quota system is also one of the root causes of our ailing bureaucratic system. If we want competent and capable people at the helm of affairs, we will have to reinstate merit and only merit. The Supreme Court should step in and take notice of the ministerial nepotism, lack of merit and arbitrariness in the appointments, transfers, and promotions of officials. Unless this entrenched class is changed, nothing will change for good in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The Apex Court should direct the government to enact the security of tenure and containment of the discretionary powers of rulers for appointments, transfers and promotions of public officials. There should be transparency of decision-making and enactment of citizens’ right to information and accountability for administrative reforms to sustain. The present 28 years age limit fixed by the FPSC is unnecessary and discriminatory. Education and skills should be the yardstick, and the discriminatory age policy should be revised extending the age limit to 40 years.