Pakistan inherited administrative reforms from the British colonial authorities. The country is once again heading towards a long-awaited overhaul of governance model. Various governments, be it civilian or military, have made reforms as one of their top priorities under the development agenda by extending significant financial and human resources.
The reforms were formulated through working groups, reform committees, commissions or task forces working in collaboration with several international development partners like the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Department for International Development (DFID), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Multiple studies, surveys, whitepapers, and reports have been published without producing a tangible outcome, ending up either in the archives in libraries or as certificate of achievement for civil servants.
Despite these efforts, little progress has been made due to absence of good governance, frail economy, corruption, inept bureaucracy, declining moral and ethical values in society, instable democratic system, poor law and order situation, and unreliable social services.
Unlike its predecessors, the new government is determined to abandon the centuries-old bureaucratic procedures by strengthening institutions for better accountability, empowering citizens to play a key role in the decision-making process, and transforming the public sector by revitalising the concept of right to service and information.
Pakistan went under this mode of reformsin the early 2000s as well, where citizens saw investment in research and development, significant increase in literacy rate, revenue collection and foreign investment. However, the country lacks a strategic roadmap protected by legislation.
Pakistan, just like other developing countries, is not alone in this race of spinning off the centuries-old traditional approach of governance to become more systematic and outcome-driven governance. Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, India, South Korea and Bangladesh are among the countries where technology-driven reforms shook up the slow moving and rusted policies with consensus-based decision-making processes.
It’s a challenging task to repeat success stories of countries like Japan and South Korea. Malaysia emerged as one of the strongest knowledge-based economies by adopting technology in reshaping its governance model.
In 1980, Japan set up its vision and policy goal to be the “nation based on science and technology”, which later helped them to implement different laws, regulations, reforms and policies to be technology driven with swift citizen centric outcomes.
Comparing Pakistan with Japan wouldn’t be fair, but who doesn’t know about The Korean Miracle. The country, known to be an agriculture-based economy in 1960 is ranked 2nd on ICT (information and communication technologies) Development Index by ITU in 2017. Bangladesh, too, was established under the same circumstances and mindset, but bringing ‘new public management’ helped the country to be prominent in the region.
The state of Bihar in India was struggling with poverty and corruption till 2005, but later ICT reforms were introduced which helped the local administration to streamline operations, boost revenues, and improve the government’s responsiveness to the citizens’ needs resulting in improving lives of people.
New Public Management (NPM), a phenomenon introduced in the 1980s is fully backed by the technology to modernise the public sector. The countries who adopted NPM not only showed significant improvement in the public-sector performance but also proved to be cost-effective without having any negative side effects on the other objectives proposed by the government. NPM includes organisational changes within the state with privatisation, corporate management, decentralisation, regulation and political control.
Given the economic, strategic, institutional and ideological changes around the world, the newly elected government smartly started its journey by examining and fixing the foundation of public sector through reforms. The government has already announced multiple ‘task forces’ to propose reforms focused on governance, health, education, etc. Pakistan has already missed the wave of automation or digitisation, but it can still adopt the concept of digital transformation through technology-driven reforms.
Task forces established for civil service reforms, addressing public service structure, HR policies and management, recruitment, placement, training, promotion, career planning, performance measurement, compensation, post-retirement need to focus on digital unified platform to establish a solid foundation of ‘Naya Pakistan’.
Before we examine the strength of technology, we need to clearly draw a line between automation and digital transformation. Automation may still follow the old bureaucratic steps through clicking buttons here and there, whereas the digital transformation not only reengineer the processes based on latest trends but also establish a seamless integration with supported functionalities and may end up providing a whole different level of user experience.
Imagine a system driven recruitment process which can tap into LinkedIn, careerbuilding.com, database of recruiting agencies to find the best candidate for the available position, verifying their information through different sources, preparing online test and empowering government agencies to define evaluation criteria. An intelligent platform not only keeps track of the sanctioned position but also gives you the visibility of the best resource available in the pool.
Technology can help the government track ghost employees and calculate excessive workforce that is injected in the system on the name of employment generation.
The government needs to buckle-up and execute an order to enforce the implementation with clear timelines in a phase-wise approach. Technology is there, the government is committed and people are full of expectations. We need to take one step further and ensure a unified digital control system at every single entity of government.