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EDITORIAL: Bureaucrats in Punjab are being pulled up by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for ignoring or delaying action on complaints registered on Pakistan Citizens’ Portal, established by Prime Minister Imran Khan for the redressal of public grievances. According to an official press release, 263 officers have been issued warning letters, seven given show-cause notices, 833 directed to be careful in future, and explanations sought from 111 officers. Provincial information, agriculture, excise and irrigation secretaries have also been asked to improve their performance. This is a pretty large number of members of the bureaucracy who do not seem to take the portal seriously despite the PM’s keen interest in it.

On the face of it, these officers have got their just deserts. But they are not expected to do any better under the prevailing system. In December last, the PM approved the Civil Servants Rules aimed at bringing efficiency and discipline in the service through internal accountability. As the present exercise shows the new rules have little to do with improving attitudes towards the people. That though is not possible in the absence of an important reform: freeing the bureaucracy from political influence. Officers who refuse to bend to the wishes of a chief minister or his coalition partners can do that at the risk of transfer to some back of the beyond or assigned position incommensurate with his/her professional status and experience. In fact, there have been several instances on the watch of this government wherein senior officers had to face unsavoury pressures and punitive action, too. And in one instance, a coalition partner of the PTI government in Punjab openly demanded that it should be allowed to manage the affairs of its constituencies, which effectively meant control over local administrations. That explains why people approach the Citizens’ Portal. They first try to resolve their problems at the local level, but usually fail due to resistance from influential individuals, which is when they seek help from the PMO’s portal.

Bureaucracy in its present form being a legacy of colonial rule, some of its members may want to keep a distance from ordinary people and behave arrogantly towards them. That also suits the power elites. Things will change for the better only when governments in the provinces as well as government at the centre change their own attitude towards governance. Instead of appointing senior civil servants to important positions for the loyalty reason they ought to reward and respect professional efficiency. For that to happen bureaucracy must be depoliticized, so the officers know they have to serve the people rather than their political bosses, their allies and other hangers-on. The system of patronage has to go if the intention of the reform effort is delivery of service to the people on the basis of need in a fair and transparent manner.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021