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Old Thursday, June 30, 2011
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Exclamation Work Ethics in the Public Sector

By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq

[The article first appeared in Business Recorder on April 29, 2011. The writers, tax lawyers and writers of many books are Adjunct Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences.]

Public service is meant to serve the public at large and public servants are commissioned to ensure the smooth functioning of government departments. The prime function of the State of looking after the interests of citizens, is not possible without this apparatus.

They hold a vital position in acting as intermediaries between the common man and implementation of the government's policies. Their job is quite formidable as they have to perform their duties with respect to representing the government and simultaneously providing assistance to the public in dealing with different issues. These include services related to: defence, education, health, tax, police, courts, registration of vehicles; traffic; road safety, transport, registration/transfer of properties, permits/licences, utilities, trade and entertainment. (List is not exhaustive, only some essential ones have been mentioned).

In their everyday lives there are innumerable occasions on which people of this country have to interact with many public functionaries who are ideally required to extend their full support and facilitate in a way that helps to expedite work without putting members of the public in any difficulty. They should be equipped with necessary infrastructure, tools, facilities, a high level of competence, knowledge of their sphere of job, devotion to their work, needless to say above all dedication, commitment, sincerity, hard work and personal integrity.

There are a number of ways through which government officials are recruited and appointed. In addition to competitive examinations conducted by both the federal and provincial governments, lateral, ad hoc and direct methods are employed to appoint different persons to public posts, underlying criteria being the apparently usual "right man for the right job" i.e. qualification, competence, sound character etc.

To manage this massive public service, coded laws have been laid down that govern each and every aspect of the functions of public servants, from their initial appointment to code of conduct, to leave accounts, to rules pertaining to their salaries, benefits, promotions, transfers, postings, retirement, resignation, disciplinary proceedings and what not.

Once they sign the offer of employment issued to them by the government, they undertake to religiously observe all these regulations as failure could lead to harsh eventualities. Not only are they supposed to abide by their respective codes of conduct, they are also expected to assist the public in resolving their problems and issues. In simple terms, their status is merely to perform executive duties, control and manage different departments of the government so that everything works smoothly for the government.

They are not paid by the taxpayer to make themselves inaccessible to the public or exert undue pressure or show arrogance and indignation. The ghosts of British colonial masters, who laid the foundations of civil service in the Subcontinent, would be much amused at the state of their legacy in the hands of the Pakistani civil servants most of whom have not left any stone unturned to blotch this otherwise efficient system of administration.

The moment they adorn the robes of a public servant they become oblivious to the common man's woes and find innovative ways and means to make his life miserable, forcing him to run from pillar to post to get his work done or worse, giving him no choice but to pay heavily under the table for solution of his problems and if none of these work, then to get hold of an influential person (sifarshi) for things that are essentially his legal rights.

Even though majority of the public servants are guilty of surrendering to their whims, bribery or undue recommendations, yet they manage to get promoted to their highest level after which they retire and either live a life of recluse or become advisors to ministers. Interestingly, if their annual confidential reports (ACRs) are examined, it would be found that those who have served well under their bosses, have been given outstanding remarks compared to those who have tried to do something innovative by breaking the status quo or daring to defy any undesirable command.

Thus, those officers who have gone out of their way to please their bosses at the expense of ordinary people, are the ones to get accelerated promotions and prized postings. Therefore if an officer is able to grant millions of rupees contract to beautify a particular road just because the Chief Public Servant frequents it, has certainly a lot to hope for. So what, if the poor residents of neglected colonies are forced to live like animals for want of a fraction of the amount spent to ensure a good ACR.

Besides, most ACRs contain nothing more than credentials of honesty and hard-work as if these traits were truly unique in the cadre of public servants. If so, then it definitely implies that there is something fundamentally wrong in the entire set-up. When competence, skill and better qualification cease to be the norms of merit what else is left to bank on for a prosperous society? If individuals aspire only to improve their own self then where does the concept of collective development exist? If merely pleasing the boss is the main objective then where is the wretched common to go for redressing his grievances?

If the huge public service sector is meant only for a handful, influential few then there is an urgent need to reformulate not only the entire system but the mother of the system, which is the Constitution itself. The Preamble then could be replaced by a one liner that, "The state of Pakistan stands created only for the purpose of serving the vital interests of its political leadership and its handmaid, combined forces of civil and military bureaucracy, the rest of the nation is required not to expect anything but highhandedness, subservience, humiliation" [One can keep on adding according to his/her own bitter experiences].
[Courtesy Business Recorder]
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