Aug 2, 2009

Cash not perks

Democratisation of governance is the solution if we have to progress
By Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq
Civil servants' performance reflects the performance of government. Your role must be that of enablers and facilitators rather than just regulators
-- Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, addressing 90th National Management Course and 5th Senior Management Course at National Management College Lahore on July 25, 2009.
Since independence, all efforts to reform civil service have failed. Numerous committees and commissions were constituted to suggest ways and means -- including rationalising pays and perquisites of employees -- to bring fundamental reform in this important institution, but their recommendations remained on paper. There has always been strong resistance from bureaucracy for change -- essentially it is pro status quo and mediocrity. Change and innovation threatens rule of mediocrity and sycophancy, which our bureaucrats are famous for.
The other day, a powerful officer in Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was complaining about the "rude behavior of politicians". He was unhappy about the financial deal (double salary) given to him vis-à-vis "large sums of money" spent on elected members of the parliament. According to him, the total expense of salary, allowances, perquisite and benefits for an MNA is around Rs32 million and for the entire house about Rs85.44 billion per year. He was of the view that corrupt, incompetent and inefficient politicians are responsible for the present state of affairs in the country.
The politicians on the other hand think that bureaucracy is the root cause of all ills. They claim that a secretary of government costs at least Rs500,000 per month to the national exchequer with lots of other facilities and perquisites in kind. If rent-free accommodation given to him in Islamabad alone is evaluated on market basis, the benefit is not less than worth Rs150,000 per month. In addition, he exercises unfettered powers and defies the orders of elected members of parliament and sometimes even those of ministers.
It is a sad fact that expenses on monstrous establishments -- federal and provincial -- are astronomically rising. The following details may be an eye-opener for many -- certainly painful for the honest taxpayers which now include poorest of the poor paying 16% sales tax on almost everything -- who are fleeced for the luxuries of the mighty government servants, politicians and the rich:
Out of total consolidated current expenditure of Rs2066 billion for fiscal year 2008-2009 of federal and provincial governments, the amount spent on perquisites and benefits of government servants was enormous; Federal government spent Rs140 billion, Punjab Rs55 billion, Sindh Rs40 billion, NWFP Rs17 billion and Balochistan Rs12 billion.
100 high ranking officers in federal and provincial governments inhabit 12,644 kanals of land for their palatial residential buildings. Sitting in these palaces, they behave like Gora sahibs deciding the fate of the hapless Pakistani people on the streets.
Majority of government functionaries lives beyond means spending far more than salaries it receives.
There is an urgent need for right sizing -- closing down of all the unnecessary departments, divisions, sub-divisions and allied paraphernalia of government apparatus (see detailed list of such offices in article by Dr. Farrukh Saleem in The News). The list is long and astonishing. At Constitution Avenue, Islamabad, one can count 30-50 useless government establishments that are doing nothing but have imposing buildings and huge staff. The same is true everywhere -- in all parts of the country one finds government offices, overstaffed, wasting money and time and making the lives of the citizens difficult. This is in a nutshell the story of our civil service -- the worst remnant of colonial legacy not ready to surrender its power, perquisites and benefits.
Living in sprawling bungalows with an army of servants, the top bureaucrats are least pushed to know how the common man is living -- even totally indifferent towards fellow low-paid employees. They make policies while sitting in their air-conditioned rooms for poverty alleviation! The other day, FBR issued rules making mandatory e-filing of statements and returns for small business houses without realising the non-existence of internet facility at remote places and even in cities for want of electricity supply.
Such measures indicate that the democratic form of governance is an alien concept in our peculiar milieu. State is run and controlled by a civil-military bureaucracy that has evolved for the worst -- crueler than the colonial masters -- since independence and political elite least concerned for democratisation of governance. Our bureaucratic structure is worst than many developing countries where decentralised governance has brought tremendous benefits for the people at grass root level. In many Latin American countries e.g. government officials get their emoluments in cash, share accommodation with fellow citizens, use public transport and their children attend public schools. Our elitist system has made civil servants masters. On the one hand, low-paid government employees hardly meet both ends and on the other, their bosses live like kings.
Democratisation of governance is the solution if we have to progress. The first and foremost step should be doing away with huge government machinery [see the detailed recommendations by Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Shahid Kardar, Nadeem Ul Haque and many others]. Complete overhauling of civil service is a prerequisite for democratic governance. The reforms should be all pervasive, but as a necessary step all perquisites and benefits of government employees should be monetised. The State must withdraw all facilities like houses, cars, servants and telephones etc. The perquisites in kind should be monetised. Let the government servants -- especially the senior bureaucrats -- live amongst the ordinary citizens of Pakistan and not in privileged enclaves like the GORs. This will give them real insight for formulating pro-people policies. They will comprehend the real problems of the ordinary folk.
By living in separate colonies and bungalows they are alienated from the common people. This culture has to be changed. The purpose is not only saving billions of rupees on the maintenance of colonial-styled huge bungalows, but also utilisation of these lucrative and expensive properties for some productive purposes. There is no need to maintain huge transport pools and army of drivers. Civil servants must use public transport, and if it is not worthy of them why should the masses be condemned and compelled to use the same?
Government servants should take residences on rent just as other citizens do after their entire pay structure is revised accordingly and fringe benefits/perquisites are monetised. They should get cars on lease or go to offices by public transport if they cannot afford lease rentals. This will be the starting point of change in society -- dawn of democratisation of governance, making all the citizens at par having access to equal opportunities or equal sense of deprivation. Those who manage and perform State functions -- civil servants -- must be made part of the masses. Once this is done, the politicians will also have no excuse or justification to fund their luxurious living from taxpayers' money. One hopes that the Pay and Pension Commission, constituted on April 6, 2009, under the chairmanship of former Governor of State Bank, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, will consider these recommendations while finalising its report, expected by the end of September 2009.

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