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Corruption, incompetence and collapse of check and balance systems and processes in the ranks of government machinery constitute major challenges for the incumbent government. This is a lethal combination and a recipe for the economic, social and moral collapse of a nation.
Over the last few decades, a class within the civil service setup and ranks has systematically developed which has formed a fraternity to govern the state through institutionalised corrupt practices as a way of life, defeating or undermining ethical work practices, processes and systems.
Today, hardly any government institution, entity or even regulator can claim that it is performing its functions as per rules of law, processes or practices. Even for a genuine work, one is compelled to decide whether he should pay off speed money or suffer endless delays. The burden of this ill, forced upon the responsible citizens, falls on the political leadership and his government which has failed to provide its citizens a government machinery based on an ethical mode of state governance.
This fraternity, developed within the government ranks, has tentacles of power and influence that have grown enormously in the last one decade. This has happened mainly because of political monopolization equally by those in power and opposition, low levels of democracy, weak civil participation, low political transparency, higher levels of bureaucracy and inefficient administrative structures for checks and balances.
The PTI government's first year of state governance has been consumed in high profile accountability, negotiating and concluding an agreement with IMF, mobilising funds from friendly countries to keep economy afloat and the conclusion of an amnesty scheme. The high profile accountability is likely to lead to plea bargaining. This is not likely to take long.
The real tasks and deliverables which will last in the remaining four years of the incumbent government will be reforms and restructuring under the IMF plan, collection of Rs 5.5 trillion revenue by the FBR in 2019-20 and higher targets thereafter, roping in tax evaders and defaulters who failed to avail the amnesty scheme and retiring the loans from friendly countries and others. All of this requires a marked growth in industry, exports, local and foreign investments, retail and real estate businesses and other channels of revenue collection.
From now onwards, it's all about 'implementation' and 2019-20 is extremely crucial year for the incumbent government. It is for sure that the government machinery in its present shape will not be able to endure this load as it is a jacket riddled with corruption and incompetence holes.
PM Imran Khan is reported to have publicly stated that his government is facing the formidable challenge of lack of implementation of its policies on account of lethargic, incompetent and laidback attitude of the government machinery entrusted with the responsibility to implement policies on ground.
His frustration drove him to the point to state that ' If FBR does not reform its self he will wind it up and create a new FBR'. This option may sound dramatic and radical to many but this realistically appears to be the only viable option to reform our institutions that require either massive restructuring or winding up. These include some of the nation's frontline regulators.
This writer in his encounters and investigative reporting has witnessed the helplessness of different Ministers in-charge. They experience strong resistance from this 'fraternity'. Same holds true for the heads of these organisations. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and reconcile themselves with business as usual, further strengthening the hold of these forces.
But one thing is for sure: this passive attitude of our ministers and the heads of institutions and the sway of the vested interests create a situation which is not sustainable in the wake of the massive social, economic and security challenges faced by the incumbent government. Business as usual cannot be allowed to be an option if the incumbent government intends to survive beyond 2020.
In an official order this week, the FBR board said that certain officials of the tax machinery had indulged in private practices (tax/legal consultancy). "This practice is against the rules, as it compromises their official status and brings disrepute to the department," the FBR said. Further, the same is prescribed under the Government Servants (Conduct) Rules, 1964.
The FBR has warned all its officials, including Inland Revenue and Pakistan Customs against indulging in any such private, tax/legal consultancy of any sort in the future.
"Strict action shall be taken against any official who is found involved in such practice, which shall also entail initiation of disciplinary proceedings under the Government Servants (Efficiency & Discipline) Rules, 1973," it added.
How far FBR board means to enforce its decision to clean up is yet to be seen.
So far, the incumbent leadership's sensitivity to cleanup of state governance machinery and turning it into an ethical and efficient one is missing. This is a grave omission on part of the leadership and is likely to frustrate the implementation of its socio-economic policies. It's now time for some bold decisions to reform the government machinery which is riddled with corruption and incompetence.
(The writer is the former President of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019