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Servant masters

Our civil service is the worst remnant of colonial legacy that resists any reforms to rationalise its power, perquisites and benefits

Servant masters

Since independence, all efforts to reform civil services of Pakistan have utterly failed. Numerous committees and commissions were constituted to suggest ways and means — including rationalising pays and perquisites of employees — to bring fundamental reforms in this important institution, but their recommendations remained on paper. There has always been strong resistance from bureaucracy for change — essentially it is unity and rule of mediocrity. Change and innovation threatens mediocrity and sycophancy, which these days are hallmarks of our bureaucracy.

Our bureaucrats keep accusing politicians for their “rude behaviour” and wastage of funds. They label politicians as a “good for nothing lot” who consume “large sums of public money.” It is estimated that total expense of salary, allowances, perquisite and benefits for elected representatives is about Rs250 billion per year. According to bureaucracy the corrupt, incompetent and inefficient politicians are responsible for the present sorry state of affairs in the country — loot and plundering and gross violations of rule of law.

“Purely political costs of running the State of Pakistan” in 2011 was “at a staggering Rs1,000,000,000,000 (a trillion rupees)” — No politics for 2 years. On March 25, 2008, the day that Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani took oath of the prime ministerial office the cost of running the PM Secretariat stood at Rs600,000 per day. Today, it is Rs2.5 million — an increase of over 250 per cent in seven years!.

Politicians on the other hand blame bureaucrats for all the prevailing ills. Total employee related expenses allocated in budget 2015-16 are Rs597 billion, in excess of Rs91 billion of total development outlay! They claim that a secretary of government costs more than a member parliament to the national exchequer. If rent-free accommodation with servants and cars given to him in Islamabad alone is evaluated on market basis, the benefit is not less than worth Rs500,000 per month. In addition, he exercises unfettered powers and defies the orders of elected members of parliament and sometimes even those of ministers!

State of Pakistan on daily basis incurs loss of millions of rupees in funding dozens of Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) e.g. Pakistan Steel Mills (now almost closed), PIA, Pakistan Railways etc, just to mention the three big white elephants — the entire list is long and painful.

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 who now include poorest of the poor paying 17 per cent to 45 per cent sales tax — who are fleeced for the luxuries of the mighty government servants, politicians and the rich:

Out of total consolidated current expenditure allocated for fiscal year 2015-2016, the amount to be spent on perquisites and benefits of government servants is enormous; federal government Rs150 billion, Punjab Rs65 billion, Sindh Rs45 billion, Khyber Pakhtunkhaw Rs20 billion and Balochistan Rs15 billion.

100 high ranking officers in federal and provincial governments inhabit over 15,000 kanals of land for their palatial residential buildings. Sitting in these palaces, they behave like ‘Gora Sahibs’ while dealing with the citizens who pay billions as taxes.

Majority of the government functionaries lives beyond means, spending far more than the salaries they receive.

There is an urgent need for privatising all PSEs and rightsizing — or may be closing down of all the unnecessary departments, divisions, sub-divisions and allied paraphernalia of government apparatus. 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! Tax bureaucrats sitting in Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) issue rules like 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. The 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 make both ends meet 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 [detailed recommendations are given 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 change. 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 worth their standards then 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.

2 comments

  • I agree that civil servants have a very extravagant style but we must not forget that for CSS, you have to clear the most difficult exams as well as it is open for all. So if the hard-working students are living the same lifestyle as those who don’t study that hard. It’s still inequality.
    This fight is for lifestyles. Sanctions must apply, not equality.

  • Without going into the facts , figures and opinion conveyed by the writers , one grave mistake needs to be corrected in the article; the use of word “army” in line 2 of para 11 needs to be immediately removed as it is equal to maligning this great institution which is doing a great job (it’s own and of all others) and none of the faults narrated by the writers like colonial legacy , exorbitant expenditures , inefficiency , corruption maybe attributed to this national asset.

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