- The old CSP wants to control the police
By Syed Usama Shirazi
Bureaucracy is the hand of any government. Without an efficient and effective bureaucracy, no government can convert its vision into reality. Unfortunately, Pakistan has completely failed to develop a robust bureaucratic system to ensure good governance and sustainable development.
Since before and after the general elections of 2018, we have been hearing lofty promises and assertions regarding civil service reforms from the ruling party. But no tangible steps have been taken yet. The committee founded under the chairmanship of Doctor Ishrat Hussain seems to be paralysed by interdepartmental tug of war. The recommendations of the committee are mainly focused on recruitment and selection side. Wherein the current 12 groups would be merged into four, and only specialised candidates would appear in the exam for a particular post. It would be a good step if implemented in letter and spirit, as the job of many groups especially commerce, trade, finance, audit, tax, and police require specialised people.
Apparently, the government is giving the impression that it is serious to get this nation rid of the anachronistic bureaucratic system and replace it with an efficient and responsive one. But, in reality, now, after a bitter experience with the bureaucracy, it wants to maintain the status quo. The real problem doesn’t reside on induction side. No doubt that there are many loopholes in recruitment and selection side that can be fixed, but still those who come through this system are competent enough to perform their duties if they are provided with a feasible working environment.
Secondly, elections promises of Imran Khan to reform Punjab police are yet to be fulfilled. Since the death of Salahuddin in police custody, the mounting public pressure has left the current government with very little room to manoeuvre. The presentation given by the IG Punjab shows that police want full operational and administrative autonomy. But, the problem doesn’t end here. The spinal card of the bureaucracy, the Pakistan Administrative Service, the erstwhile DMG (District Management Group), is trying to resuscitate and regain its lost prestige, power, and glory. The bigwigs of this group are trying to place the police under the command of district administration. They are of the view that the incompetence of police creates many security and law and order problems that severely affect the performance of the district administration. By doing so, the accountability of police could be possible as the deputy commissioners and commissioners would hear the public complaints directly.
The only way forward to reform the civil service for good governance and better service delivery is to empower local governments and place district administration and police under the district Nazim, both de facto and de jure. That would be the real manifestation of government of the people, by the people, and for the people
The deputy commissioners would act as representatives of the provincial government. This shows that the purpose is not to reform the service, but rather to gain more power in the administration. On the other hand, police officers in Punjab threatened to resign from the service if such steps are taken to make them subservient to a specific group. Police officials have always been weeping over resource constraints. According to them, the real issues are lacking adequate budget for investigation, fragile infrastructure, meagre salaries, harsh working environment, political pressure, and inadequate reward system. They are right up to some extent that equipping them with resources would make system efficient and responsive. But what about the police accountability which top police officials have always eschewed and that should be the linchpin of the reforms?
On the pretext of accountability, the bigwigs of PAS are trying to bridle the police. Through the devolution plan of 2002, many powers were taken from the deputy commissioners and handed to the local governments, including the police. Though de facto still real power resides with deputy commissioners, since then the subsequent governments and even President Musharraf didn’t try to transfer power to local governments in real terms. In fact, Musharraf’s devolution plan was not intended to redesign the administrative structure, but to gain political purposes. He tried to create a new breed of politicians to curtail the power of his political opponents and secondly, to make the civil bureaucracy subservient to him by snatching its de jure powers.
Is there any rocket science required to reform the civil service? Unfortunately, our ruling elite deliberately presents this task as Herculean so that it could not lose its grip on power. Every department wants more power, prestige, and authority, but no accountability, and the general populace has been bearing the brunt of their lust for power for last 70 years. Same is the case with our political elite that doesn’t want to see an autonomous civil bureaucracy and an empowered local government. The current government seems a little bit more serious than the previous ones. There is the introduction of Punjab Local Government Act 2019, which in many respects is better than that introduced by the PML-N government in 2013. Through this act 30 per cent of provincial budget would be transferred to local governments, which is commendable, but again if implemented in real terms. The only way forward to reform the civil service for good governance and better service delivery is to empower local governments and place district administration and police under the district Nazim, both de facto and de jure. That would be the real manifestation of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]