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There is another reshuffle in the Punjab bureaucracy in short span of PTI government, and finally the government is probably on the right path. Civil servants are state employees and associating them with a political party is de-motivating especially when accountability is all over the place. De-politicize the civil servants – they are assets of state.

Yes, there were blue-eyed officers of Shahbaz Sharif; he used to run the province like a chief executive and he used to rely on horses (capable civil servants). SS was also known to only reward those who performed, irrespective of the grade. If someone was not up to the task, he was ruthless. He used to be averse of typical corrupt and incompetent officers. Hence, when you try to dig from the limited pool of officers, who were not at key posts during 2008-18, you will end up with deadwood or those who are corrupt to the core. How can you expect them to perform?

Think of a private company – top management is usually blue-eyed of CEO. Now when a new CEO comes, he either runs with the same management or brings people from outside (not possible in government). What if the new CEO tries to bring people who are experienced but could not be promoted within the company. He will be disappointed. Had the second tier officers been better, they would have been promoted or moved out to another organization.

Buzdar (or whoever is running Punjab) tried to bring life in deadwood, but failed. Now, the doers (not so called blue-eyed) are back in action. Now some say that SS model is the only option - micromanagement with carrot and stick approach. Well, they are sadly mistaken, as in that model, there was intuitional derailment. The PTI government needs to re-build the institution. How to do it is a separate debate. Good officers at key posts is a prerequisite for development and building institutions.

Some hint at bringing people from the private sector – easier said than done. The chances are only opportunists from private sector may join as good resource is already doing good in private sector. Plus, it is hard to train people from private sector as the nature of public service is different from the private sector. And people make such choices at early stage of life. Those who want to contribute for nation building, irrespective of money, join civil service. Unfortunately, some join for gaining power or earning corruption rents – but not every sheep is black.

The need of the hour is to empower the performing officers and take the fear of NAB out of their mind. PM Imran gives the example of Pakistan bureaucracy in 60s; but that model cannot work today. In 60s, a typical officer was more arrogant – was not accessible to politicians or public, he used to work from 9 to 2, played tennis in the afternoon and spent nights at the clubs. Now a good officer has to work 14-16 hours a day and has to be to available at odd hours for meetings and crisis management. In 60s, the power circles were confined to military and bureaucracy. Today, politicians, media, lawyers and civil society are in play as well.

Also in 60s, monetary rewards were aligned to attract cream of the country in public service. Historically civil servants were highly paid relative to other public servants, but civil service reform of 1973 created unified pay grade. Since 1972, junior officers’ real wages increased whist grade 22 is on decline (in 1972 grade 22 salary was 17 times to grade 1, and today its less than 10 times) – incentive diminished to perform at top. The other issue is that everyone gets promoted in civil service.

The other example PM gives is of Singapore where bureaucracy shaped up the country to unprecedented levels. There is a famous book “Neither civil nor servant” by Philip Yeo, who was a star bureaucrat in Singapore. He was a doer and had contribution in making big industrial complexes, port infrastructure and all. He worked under different political regimes and everyone used to trust him, he was mandated and more importantly was given liberty for honest mistakes (not present in Pakistan where error of judgement is nowadays equated with criminal intent).

In his book, he gave an example of buying aircrafts from USA – he was asking to buy three, but was allowed to buy two at a certain price limit. He went to US and negotiated a deal to buy four aircrafts at the agreed price of two. He took decision and closed the deal on the government’s behalf. Later, he was not asked by any accountability agency why he went ahead with four instead of the approved two.

Pakistan today needs doers to take the economy up the ladder. The government aspires to do big projects, they government seeks to change shape of cities and so on. For that, one needs officers who can take initiative and move forward, and such officers need liberty in operations, and they need to have trust of the government, and should continue to work under an institutional framework in one government or the other without being labeled as blue-eyed of a party.

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