Merit, not austerity

Mansoor Ahmad
Sunday, Jun 05, 2022

LAHORE: Austerity is compulsion now, but slashing petrol quota of ministers and bureaucracy would amount only playing to the gallery. Why can't we slash the number of ministries and reduce the size of bureaucracy?

Keeping a brigade of ministers and advisors is mere a political compulsion to retain power. Logically, we do not need more than a dozen ministries to run the country.

Moreover, ministers tend to acquire powers more than they are supposed to have.

Postings and transfers should not be on need-based, but on merit and transparency. Any deviation from rules must carry penalties. This would clip aspiration of dozens of ministers to twist the rules.

An independent and empowered bureaucracy would have to deliver. The state expense can drastically be reduced without going for cosmetic austerity measures such as cutting petrol consumption or travel expenses of ministers.

Governments in Pakistan dare not get rid of staff and workers of those public sector companies that are no more operative.

The main function of a government is to run the country transparently and efficiently. The government can function efficiently if appointments are made on merit. The practice of recruiting officials on special scales is grossly misused.

We have seen goofs enjoying high perks on these posts without delivering.

When there is a right person for the right job, things will move smoothly.

Regulations would ensure transparency and efficiency. The penalty of line losses and theft would be borne by inefficient operators (that also need appointments on merit) and not the public.

The system is operated in a way that provides avenues to avoid merit.

Prime Minister office is vested with huge powers. All major appointments in bureaucracy, regulatory institutions, and even in state-run-enterprises need approval of the PM. There is a process where PM has discretion to approve one of the three candidates sent to him for approval.

Prime Minister also enjoys power to reject all names and ask for new names. The only qualification of the PM is that he enjoys support of most national assembly members.

A more transparent appointment procedure was suggested by the World Bank through a report prepared by Khalid Mirza during the last Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) era.

It was suggested that all tenure posts of regulatory institutions must be advertised.

A panel comprising individuals with clean credentials (like Baber Ali (LUMS)

and Saleem Lakha (Agha Khan University) to name a few, would interview all applicants along with an expert in the relevant field.

They would then shortlist 10 candidates each for all regulatory posts, and the names would be displayed through gazette.

The report had suggested that whenever a regulatory post was to be vacant, PM would appoint from first three candidates in the list before expiry of term of the existing regulator.

If PM failed to do so, the person that was top on the list would be automatically appointed.

This way merit can prevail and the practice of asking someone to officiate till further orders would not be needed.

Currently, we are operating even without a permanent State Bank of Pakistan governor and WAPDA chairman.

The procedure for new appointments is lengthy and the officiating regulators can also apply for the job.

They may in the meantime toe the line of the government to get permanent appointment.