- Bureaucrats are the last bastion of resistance to change
Of all people, the Amir ofthe Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is talking about Obsolete Mechanics (Puranay Mistri). According to Siraj-ul-Haq Sahib, the Prime Minister (PM) is trying to run a new machine with ‘puranay mistri‘. Coming from the head of a status-quo party, this is an interesting statement. As a technologist, I fully understand the concept of obsolescence. Indeed most of our ‘mistris are caught in time. they are both old and tainted. Today no one seems to know the way forward while the backward movement continues unabated. Before any meaningful recovery, the decline has to be stalled. For new learning to take place, a lot of unlearning will be required. The big question is, are we ready for it? Then there is a huge digital divide while the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is stuck in the analog era.
In the early 1990s, when I returned from abroad after completing my graduate studies, I availed the Car Gift or Import facility. Under this scheme every Pakistani who did not draw foreign exchange from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) could gift a car to an immediate family member once in two years, or import one if the stay exceeds a period of six months. I went to book a car of my choice with the local dealer of a famous Japanese brand. To my bad luck I was told that since the assembly of that car had started in the country I could not import it. Reluctantly I booked a local assembled version.To my surprise it was being sold with the old ‘carburetor technology’ instead of the latest ‘fuel injection’. On my protest I was told that since the mechanics had not been trained on the new technology, the manufacturer decided to stay with the old one for long term service and sustainability. Keeping up with the Japanese approach of training the work force, new trained mechanics were introduced gradually, together with the new technology.
The state owned Automobile Corporation of Pakistan, started assembly of Suzuki Cars in the country. A plant was built in the 1980s in the West Wharf area of Karachi as a joint venture with the Japanese manufacturer. Despite being profitable, the government decided to hand over the management to the mother company. Pak Suzuki Motor Company moved the plant from the West Wharf to the Port Qasim industrial area close to the Steel Mills, and a new work force was raised with the minimum qualification of Secondary School Certificate (matriculation). They started anew in the new plant with a fresh trained manpower combined with automation. Today the company produces several models with state-of-the-art technology and workers to support it, while all the puranay mistri were sent home through golden handshake as they were no longer needed.
‘Management of Technology’ is in fact ‘Management of Change’. Like my slide rule, it is time to hang the effigy of the relics of the past whom Siraj Sahib rightly termed ‘puranay mistri’ as the game is now being played on the fast moving turf of technology for which modern day technologists are needed
In a world driven by technology, only change is permanent. New technologies need new players, and old honchos have to be replaced by fresh talent. The JI has been struggling with its old image that has limited its electoral appeal. I am sure as a second-term Amir of the party, Siraj Sahib has done some homework about getting rid of the puranay mistri within its own fold but his comments have to be taken seriously as he has been doing a balancing act between the old and new to embrace change within his party. As always, the bureaucracy has been the biggest obstacle in the way of change as bureaucrats are not trained to manage it. At best they can maintain the status quo or stop the flow of work, moving forward is not their forte.
As engineering students in the1970s, we had to learn the use of the slide rule for solving complex equations involving multi figure multiplications and divisions. Then came the calculator that not only made our life much easier but also resulted in ending the domination of the much revered slide rule, which now hangs in my study in its leather case as a relic of the past. I have tried several times to hand it over to my children but it seems to have no value for them, as such they want to keep away from this relic of the past. At times I do try to fascinate my grandchildren with the calculations I can do by moving the scales, but now it is all fun and games with no real meaning: they are amazed, laugh and then move away, leaving the tool behind.
It is all about meaning and application. When needs of the people change, technology responds by providing new solutions for the support of which a new workforce has to be built. In our lifetime, so many technological innovations have taken place that it is almost impossible to keep up with them. Hand-held smart phones have changed the world. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, impressed by progressive politics, we were told that ‘Once a Comrade Always a Comrade’. This still holds true but now a new slogan has developed: ‘ Once a Technologist Always a Technologist’. While cycling to school on Hall Road in the1960s, there were a few Radio Shops, a Piano Repairman and Frosty Molty Ice Cream parlour. Now the place is inundated with mobile-phone and computer shops. There is hardly anyone left in the city to repair radios or pianos. I have to go looking for those puranay mistri, most of whom have now perished form the real, digital world of action and movement. Then when I visit the Secretariats in Lahore or Islamabad it seems to be a sanctuary of ‘obsolete mechanics’. They even refuse to accept written applications and complaints. Little do they know that the couriers can now deliver overnight, so at best they can delay the agony of the people for 24 hours only, sooner or later they will have to respond. Then the new 21st century legislation has taken place, Information Commissions have been set up both at the federal and provincial levels which forces them to share information with the public.
The sanctuaries of ‘obsolete mechanics’ can at best stall progress, which they have been doing for decades. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) prepared itself as a party of change. There were Thinks Tanks and a Shadow Cabinet that formulated policies for ‘Naya Pakistan’ which was envisioned as a Progressive Welfare State. The 2013 election was stolen through the deadly NRO, the party was denied its due share in the corridors of power making room for the age-old tested, tried and failed Electables to take charge. It reminds me of our days of hockey domination when we ruled the world, but then the turf was replaced with AstroTurf. Since then the ‘ Gojra Academy of Hockey ‘ has been struggling to produce the talent to dominate our national game. ‘Management of Technology’ is in fact ‘Management of Change’. Like my slide rule, it is time to hang the effigy of the relics of the past whom Siraj Sahib rightly termed ‘puranay mistri’ as the game is now being played on the fast moving turf of technology for which modern day technologists are needed.