The dilemma of politicized bureaucracy

By: Prof. Abdul Shakoor Shah

Colonial practice of bureaucratic dominance resulted into politicized bureaucracy after the emergence of Pakistan. Bureau-politic intimacy piloted institutional putrefaction, capricious decision-making, corruption outrage, kick-back traditions, rent-seeking behavior and lack of accountability. Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies and it is considered the death of any sound work. The poor suffer from files and everything done can be undone by the bureaucracy. Shakespeare was right to dialogue it out “Presidency is nothing but clerkship”. This clerkship turned out to be bureaucracy later on. Our president has complained against bureaucratic tactics of delaying files, what will be the fate of a lay man!

After the murder of Liaqat Ali Khan, bureaucracy took over power with an upper hand. This fault line destabilized the other institutions. The ascendancy of unelected over elected organ left the Parliament scrawny and submissive to the supervisory. Political institutions subsided to the steel framed officialdom. The high ups of bureaucracy deviated from Quaid’s Sayings and assumed an overriding position over public representatives and democracy was rolled back. During this period, there was a uniformed and civil bureaucratic coalition known as “the Fours”. Power distribution settlements between the Khakis and civilians were prepared during 1958-68.

The bureaucracy got hold of power by espousing an acquiescent role under the military. The ICS/CSP bureaucrats played a partial and politicized role through Basic Democracies (BD) System. The presidential election of 1965 permitted the CSP to manifest its ‘loyalty’ to the rising sun. During the military rule of General Zia, they heaved a sigh of relief from the Damocles Sword, lingered by Z.A.Bhutto. Bureaucrats had the benefit of the political flux of 1990’s and PPP’s period 2008-2013 wherein various political parties confronted the predicament of centralized and provincial multi-party governments. Astute bureaucrats were eloquent in choreographing such lop-sidedness of governments as the provincial chief executive was dummied to suspend any federal officer.

Punjab discerned this crisis wherein the then Principal Secretary to Chief Minister was by and large referred as the de-facto executive of the Punjab. In 2014, PML (N) revived the politicized bureaucratic culture by certain appointments of serving federal bureaucrats. A culture of accumulating infinite wealth by fair or foul means in the shortest possible time has rooted deep.

Civil servants have learnt the political and martial ropes to make a way in power corridors, subjective power in decision-making, being de-facto rulers, remote control of  policy making for vested interest, regal lifestyle, white-collar corruption and boundless bonuses and benefits. They are only concerned to delight the ruling cream of the crop for their personal advantages, not for the man in the street. Now these politicized bureaucrats have turned the table from public servants to masters. Initial two decades of Pakistan the political institutions were fragile as compared to stalwart and cumbersome bureaucracy.

Succeeding governments malformed bureaucracy into politicized institutions to shun impeding sacking, transfers and postings. Institutional power and stability was guild by fight for chair. Charles H. Kennedy disagrees with the quota system in the words, ‘the quota selects candidates who, according to whatever criterion of merit is employed, are not the ‘best’ available for appointment. Arguably, such a selection policy makes the bureaucracy less efficient’.  Academic standards of colleges and universities are not capable of

Pass out competent candidates for civil service examination. Current education system is not more than proclamation and shimmering sanguinity of success. FPSC recruits only 7.5% on open-merit while 92.5% are recruited on quota-basis. It has been observed that the best human force of the present poor education system does not generally sit for the civil service examination. FPCS servants are skilled through the Civil Service Academy, Management and Professional Development Department (MPDD) and National School of Public Policy and Pakistan Administrative Staff College (PASC). Resemblance of training is provided mostly through guest speakers, multi-media management which involves zero research assignments. The curriculum is so shallow and the assessment of under training future bureaucrats so pliable as to pose no great intellectual challenge to cope with the practical and future possible crisis. Scholarly aptitude of directorial machinery was also endangered by suspension, transfers and postings.  It is agonizing to tarnish the image of civil service and losing public confidence and shattering the aspirations of the masses. Intellectually and morally paralyzed administration is inefficient to resolve the crisis of stinging poverty and social polarization, ethnicity and sectarianism, breakdown of law and order and economic growth. The existing customary and typical training environment does not spruce bureaucrats to cope with such fearsome problems. 

The institution of bureaucracy has mislaid the expertise, competence and capability which they innate from colonial inheritance. Due to lack of research, coupled with phony schooling milieu, existing lot of civil servants are inept to figure out the nature of redoubtable tribulations of poverty, social polarization, mores and sectarianism, breakdown of law and order and economic deterioration. Cry off in cerebral competence has blemished the projection of governance parameters. Major institutes (National instruct of Public Policy and others) meant for training and professional development have shoddily botched in gaining the target of skilled and intellectually well-resourced bureaucrats to run the affairs of the state lucratively. Irony of fate is that training institutes in the country are also run by the same elite of bureaucrats. How can a tapered mind in a melancholic and evocative environment advocate fresh and healthy ideas?

Politicization of bureaucracy incapacitated this institution in different ways. Primacy of PAS officers during the current government resulted into politicization, bureau-politic bonhomie, institutional perish, uninformed decision-making, sleaze indignity, kick-back culture, white-collar crime and lack of answerability. Channelized corruption further goaded the catastrophe. Bureau-politic nexus at federal and provincial level sanctioned bureaucrats with unsurpassed and crucial positions in policy making. It made them unfathomable in the nonexistence of proper checks and balances. Public policies continue to be devised for vested interests of cream of the crop genre at the outlay of public exchequer and heavy foreign and domestic debit. The cart has been put before the horse, we have to systemize it otherwise the situation will be aggravated.

The writer is professor in English and freelance columnist, he can be reached at [email protected]