EDITORIAL: Yet another high-level study has exposed how the government continues to dump trillions of rupees each year into pays and pensions for unproductive public servants, once again raising the question if the public sector would ever allow reforms that cut down on its own perks and privileges.
A report produced by a five-member team of the state-run Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) has found that the federal government spends more than Rs 8 trillion on paying 1.92 million employees and providing pensions, in addition to over six dozen kinds of perks, privileges and other benefits. And, to make matters worse, very little is known about their contribution, outcome and impact on taxpayers.
It’s also no surprise that the judiciary is front and centre in receiving this largesse, closely followed by the civil service, especially the Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS, formerly DMG), which “manipulates special benefits instead of allowing the professionals of other cadres to excel and return the taxpayers with outcomes”.
None of this is new information – except perhaps for the quantification of state funds sucked into this black hole – just like everybody already knows how public servants are given a lot more in terms of non-monetary benefits that never show on their pay cheques.
This, yet again, puts the spotlight on two pressing issues that have never been addressed properly. One, the paralysis in the government sector, particularly the bureaucracy, that has become the very definition of inefficiency and corruption.
“Politicians pride themselves on placing their favourites in the public sector knowing that the taxpayer has no say in the process and will pay the cost”, the report rightly notes.
That has made it bloated and unproductive, with the surety that the last thing its beneficiaries will ever allow is breaking this status quo.
And two, the crisis in the current account. It is simply shocking that a country that cannot stay solvent without bailout programmes that come with very harsh conditions throws away money so lavishly on the most unproductive sectors under its command. Surely, these reports will find their way to the international press and raise eyebrows in offices that greenlight high-interest loans that keep us solvent.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has already advised the government to streamline the tax regime by doing what has never been done before – tax the rich and provide relief to the poor. The government’s considered no such thing so far, of course, but it will have no choice if the Fund makes future loans contingent upon such reforms.
Similarly, perhaps the only thing that can get the ball rolling on public sector compensation reforms is also a push from our usual lenders. It makes no sense to cut bailout cheque after cheque when the state is bent upon wasting so much of it on its blue eyed.
It seems the realisation that the old ways cannot be kept up any longer has still not made its way to the very top. And even the most basic reforms need to be nudged or forced from the outside.
Either way, there can be no excuse for such waste when the current account is so deep in red. If the state still fails to get its act together, then everybody will continue to suffer, especially honest taxpayers who are made to pay for the excesses, corruption, theft and incompetence of others.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023