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‘Super-bureaucrats’

Publication Date : 13-06-2014

 

It's the oldest approach to institutional reforms in Pakistan: if something is broken, instead of fixing it, bolt on something new. This time, to attract professionals from the private sector to serve in the public sector, the PML-N brain trust has come up with the idea of the ‘National Executive Service’, a cohort of super-bureaucrats who will be more empowered, paid more, judged against professional-sounding key performance indicators, and so, in theory at least, will deliver better results. The reason for mooting this new cadre is old.

Real talent and true professionals will never opt for the public sector if offered only a fraction of what they could earn in the private sector, and bureaucrats already in the governmental fold are either not trained enough or not competent enough to take up the most technical and specialised of public-sector jobs. Yet, there is little reason to take the government at its word — because everything it is setting out to do now has been attempted before and all of it has failed.

Call it the National Executive Service, call it the Management Position Category 1 pay scale, call it whatever any government decides to call such ad hoc attempts to slow down institutional decay, the problems are largely the same.

Most critically, what powers will a NES member have to ensure that his or her brilliantly crafted plans to salvage moribund public-sector organisations or departments are implemented? Inevitably, a member will have to rely on the bureaucracy to get things done.

But why would the very bureaucracy deemed too inefficient and incompetent to get the job done itself respond to the orders of a lavishly paid outsider imposed on them?

Almost as relevantly, given the ruthlessness with which the senior bureaucratic cadre protects and promotes itself, how will the PML-N ensure that the NES does not just become a post-retirement sinecure for senior civil servants with the right connections in the corridors of power?

Given the PML-N’s tendency to rely for all things on a very small number of favoured bureaucrats, the problem of bureaucratic capture is hardly theoretical.

Unwise as the move is, the plan, as mooted by the government, betrays a larger problem: the PML-N’s near-total lack of interest in meaningful reforms of state institutions. Six consecutive years of running the country’s largest, most developed province and one year into a third stint in power at the centre is more than enough time to roll out serious solutions to well-known problems.

But the centralising and controlling instincts of the Sharif government have had the opposite effect. Governance is more opaque, less reliant on merit and professionalism and more dependent on favouritism and whims of the party leadership than before.

Why, for example, would any true professional and serious talent join the NES when few can possibly believe they will have the freedom to do the job they were hired for?


 

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