Daily The Business

Old Wine in New Bottles?

By Javed Iqbal

After a series of failures on administrative and political fronts in Pakistan’s largest province, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government has, now, made massive administrative reshuffle to rectify the governance issues in Punjab. The Chief Secretary, IGP, along with several officers like ACS, principal secretary to CM etc, have been transferred to improve the deteriorating situation arising due to a weak and administratively-naive chief executive.

Due to the weak political governments in Punjab and the centre, the PTI has failed to materialize the tall claims of introducing best administrative reforms in the province.

Political analysts cite the provincial chief ministers of Punjab and KPK as the main reason for the failure; mainly on account of not committed to the party manifesto and lack of pro-poor initiatives; Another reason of its failure is undue political interference in the transfer/ posting of bureaucracy and the lower staff. This factor, alone, has acted as a catalyst in the patronisation of corrupt practices.

Although the outgoing Chief Secretary Yusuf Naseem Khokhar is a reputed officer, his soft approach towards handling governance issues, was one of the main factors that made ground for his replacement. Meanwhile, Maj (Retd). Azam Suleman who has replaced Khokhar is also a well-reputed and honest officer with vast administrative experience in the province. However, Suleman is confronted with daunting problems and challenges as the new CS. The bureaucracy was accustomed to working under pressure in the tenure of Shehbaz Sharif. However, after the arrest of Ahad Cheema and Fawad Hasan Fawad, there is a feeling of insecurity among the officers. The new CS needs to restore the confidence of officers and give them due protection from the erratic decisions and politically-motivated actions.

It was expected that he would select a team of his choice after due research. Surprisingly, a large scale transfers and postings were carried out immediately after posting of the new CS and IGP. Barring a few exceptions, such shakeup of bureaucracy is mostly restricted to changing portfolios amongst the very same bureaucrats who have been dubbed as ‘unproductive’ as they had failed to deliver positive results during first 15 months of the PTI govt. When the officer had failed to work as the head of one department or administrative unit, it is not understandable as to how the same officer would become efficient and honest overnight in the new agency?

Best way to handle the situation was a phase-wise transfer/postings on the basis of some research which includes repute of the officer and non-involvement in any corruption case. Bad reputed officers should be transferred out of the province and replaced by well-reputed ones. The way transfers and postings have been made show that exercise is done without any groundwork. Thus, it is just ‘old wine in a new bottle.’

However, there are best task masters in CS Suleman’s new team as well. Some include former ACS Home and currently posted as irrigation secretary Syed Ali Murtza who had completely overhauled Prosecution department on modern lines. During his first tenure in irrigation, he rolled back much controversial PIDA and acted against water thief mafia. During his stay at Home Department, he worked on establishment of Directorate of Monitoring. Likewise, former SMBR and presently posted as ACS Shokat Ali also delivered. He initiated major reforms to revive glory of the BOR. Secretary LG Dr Ahmad Javed Qazi also worked hard preparing much trumpeted local government system. Secretary Finance Abdullah Sumbal also completely overhauled his unit for quick online financial transactions.
However, the new CS should ensure that e-government is not a distant dream and all the file work should be put online. Punjab should also learn from Singapore’s model of responsible bureaucracy for implementing good governance. Inflation is another major issue; occupation on government lands, corruption in health and education are also needed to be addressed soon.
Given the conflict between civil and police administrations, he should settle the grievances of the force. He may opt for a proposed regulatory force in districts under DCs in consultation with police to decrease their work load.
Suleman should mobilize the relevant departments to manage price hike. Agriculture marketing department officers are reluctant to leave their offices; thus, there is a poor mechanism to counter escalating prices. The Anti-Corruption Establishment should also be made a fully autonomous body so that corruption can be minimized in provincial affairs. There is political and administrative pressure on ACE even though the former Director-General Hussain Asghar had conducted a successful operation against land mafias which later  DGs continued. Until the administration received the report of crop cultivation and yield from the concerned departments, including the Board of Revenue and get required market data, inflation and artificial price hike cannot be curtailed. Although the government has appointed special price control magistrates for three months; the Chief Secretary should also give summary trial powers to them to get the required results.
The farmers should also be given incentives to minimize the role of the commission mafia and middlemen. To fetch the agri. produce from field to the market, they have to be protected from the police pickets and be given a friendly environment. The CS has to work in tandem with the Excise, Punjab Revenue Authority and Board of Revenue to improve the tax recovery.

As Suleman has also served as secretary irrigation department, he should bring the departments of agriculture, industries, livestock, forests, food and communications & works under one umbrella to get best results. An additional Chief Secretary (production) should be deputed as coordination officer for them and they should also be linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for achieving collective goals in time. The CS should also set up a CPEC research wing under P&D to take the best policy decisions.

Instead of producing and exporting raw materials, the value-added work should be accelerated so that the current account deficit can be curtailed. Wherever there was a clash between departments and newly established authorities in the province, he should settle matters. There is a disagreement between Irrigation and the Board of Revenue for receiving a penalty of eight billion rupees against water thieves.

The new CS should immediately have a meeting with the Chief Justice, Punjab Services Tribunal Chairman, Inspector General of Police, Senior Member Board of Revenue and other key office holders and look for the solutions to the increasing litigation in the province. Those officers who have been in the office for more than three years should be completely replaced by the best ones.

Like former Chief Secretary Javed Mahmood, Suleman should visit, at least, one district every month and this should be done without notice.

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1 Comment
  1. Qaisar Iqbal says

    I think, despite frequent change in beurocracy, Mr. Buzdar should be changed..