By Javed Iqbal
When officers of the Chief Minister’s Office and Governor’s House were the only recipients of special allowance, the ones serving in the Civil Secretariat used to term it an unjustified move and an act of discrimination.
They also blamed the then PMLN CM Shahbaz Sharif for creating discrimination among the government employees. However, when the same allowances were approved for the Civil Secretariats, they started defending it as their birthright being the prime custodian of the provincial government.
After the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) took over in Punjab, the ignored section of babus serving in the Civil Secretariat came forward and demanded the government sanction new allowances. None of the ruling political bigwigs questioned or analyzed the reason behind not-sanctioning of allowances by the Shehbaz government.
It is to be recalled that during the Shehbaz Sharif tenure, the government had approved superior executive allowance for the Chief
Secretary (Rs400,000 per month) and the IGP (Rs. 350,000 per month).
The then LHC CJ directed the Punjab government to give the same to the LHC Registrar who had already been drawing a handsome judicial allowance. Both the CS and the IGP had failed to get the allowance but the Registrar LHC managed to get it. However, he had to reimburse it later on auditory objections.
When this paper investigated the matter and talked to different segments of the society, it was found that such arbitrary measures,
taken by the competent authority, create inequality and deny financial perks and benefits to the ‘have-nots.’
An Islamabad based public university VC requesting privacy said that a few weeks ago, the government had approved an allowance almost equal to full salary to engineers in the name of technical allowance. I wonder why a similar allowance can’t be given to teachers, researchers or other professionals. Engineers in contemporary Pakistan, are not a scarce resource. The irony is that the successive governments have always bowed to the powerful groups and the current government also seems to be doing the same. The elected representatives, judiciary, bureaucracy and such other groups like doctors and engineers use their collective clout to blackmail the government that usually surrenders to their demands; and as a result, many other vital professions suffer financially.
A retired Customs Service officer Jamal A. Nasir said that such allowances are discriminatory and only burden the public exchequer. Moreover, these demoralize those who do not get them. They ignore office work which, in turn, compromises service delivery and national interest.
A University Law College teacher said the salaries of all the government employees are needed to be rationalized. There is a dire need to define executive’s work; otherwise, each one will start claiming such allowances which will create chaos in the society. Moreover, allowances and their quantum should be fixed in accordance with the performance of the officers. The universities have not awarded the ‘non-practicing allowance’ to law teachers so far, despite a clear order by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its judgment dated 31.8.18. But one can witness the haste for approval of an executive allowance, because powerful officers themselves are the beneficiaries.
Former PU VC Zafar Moeen Nasir said that when an official accepted the job along with its salary and other perks then he should perform as per laid down standards. If the officials don’t want to perform then they should quit the job and give the opportunity to others who are willing to serve with their full potential.
Another head of the department at PU said that allowance must be linked with prompt performance. But unfortunately, who will monitor it? So the main thing is a strict mechanism with zero-tolerance to evaluate performance. Then, this allowance is justifiable; otherwise, it’s a burden on the treasury. He said that the government succumbed to the officers’ attitude in the wake of the so-called fear of NAB. The growing trend, he feared, would lead to a Soviet Russia like situation that was collapsed under establishments’ burden both civil and military.
An analyst, A. Mumtaz said that there is no system in place to audit the performance of bureaucrats. Just a positive comment by the senior in the ACR is enough for the subordinates’ promotion. There is a need for an effective system of performance audit. Instead of empowering the bureaucracy as the PMLN regime did, the PTI government too started enriching the officers. PMLN had centralized the powers dissolved during Musharruf era. The people expected that the PTI would again de-centralize powers as the PM Imran Khan stressed but it seemed a distant dream, he asserted.
Former VC and Punjab Higher Education Commission’s Chairman Dr. Nizamuddin said that even the annual increment should be performance-based.
Senior columnist Dr Munawar Sabir quoting from The Animal Farm said that ‘all officers are equal but some are more equal’. The need is to change the colonial mindset of bureaucracy. Actually, the whole civil structure needs to be revised gradually for efficient service delivery and a real system of performance should be put in place for good governance. A mere increase in pay and perks cannot serve the purpose and help eradicate corruption from society.
The fate of a vibrant civil service is linked to the overall societal structure. Unless the whole system is overhauled, the cosmetic steps wouldn’t improve the performance of the impassive bureaucracy. It is fact that most employees get more perks than the actual work is done. So the main thing required is a strict mechanism to measure performance with zero-tolerance.
A senior officer of the finance department when reached for comment, on the condition of anonymity, said that executive allowance will cost only Rs 1.712 billion. It will never create a situation the fall of USSR, which collapsed due to the sagging economy in the wake of the cold war. The defunct USSR did not crash under the weight of an over-sized bureaucracy, but it came down under an unsustainable defence budget year after year, he maintained.
Talking about the burden on the treasure, he said that this increase is not that huge. The 50 percent Secretariat Allowance is being withdrawn. A huge sum of Rs.15 billion as allowance and arrears for Police is required and Rs.12.3 billion is needed in the current fiscal year, he added.
A grade 21 officer serving in the federal government also said, on the condition of anonymity, that another side of the story is also there.Keeping in view the current trends in inflation and abnormal increase in living expenses, it has become impossible to have a decent living standard for the government servants. It is said that if you pay peanuts you get the monkeys. Government is also unable to attract talented people just because they get handsome salaries in the private sector.
When Rashid Mehmood Langrial,he said, was the Secretary I&C, he was able to convince the then Chief Secretary to establish a system that could help the government to award its employees on the basis of their performance. There are very few individuals who seriously attempted to accomplish the desired tasks. As a result, a development project was envisaged with Langrial as its Project Director. Some exercise was carried out to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but the project was prematurely closed down without achieving its objectives. The main beneficiary of that idea was l Rashid Mahmood Langrial who drew handsome Project Allowance for that period. He later enjoyed as Secretary Agriculture and Commissioner Lahore division.
An agriculture department officer on anonymity said that when the taxpayers feel their money is being ‘laundered’ through ‘legal techniques’, they approach the judiciary for remedy. In the present scenario, the judiciary is also the beneficiary in terms of judicial allowance. There is no panacea around except to suffer in silence. Now, more officials will stage powerful protests, in the days to come, for their monetary rights and government will have to surrender before their demands. Moreover, another officer said that his colleagues have been planning to either stage protests in front of the CM office, Civil Secretariat and the Punjab Assembly or approach higher judicial forums against discrimination. He hoped that the apex court would allow their appeals. In that situation the government should be ready to pay billions of rupees to other officers as well.
The Punjab government has been paying approximately Rs. 55 billion to 60 billion every month and around Rs.700 billion a year in terms of salaries and pension while its total development budget as around 400 billion per year. Spending a handsome amount on a select group of officers would not change archaic administrative, thana or patwari culture, let alone other sectors. Punjab CM Usman Buzdar’s Advisor Shahbaz Gill could not be reached for government’s version.