Bureaucratic differences mar Talagang’s anti-encroachment drive

By Nabeel Anwar Dhakku


Things in the local administration of Talagang City took a strange course last January at the hands of Assistant Commissioner (AC) Waseem Khan. Soon after taking charge as the Talagang AC, Mr Khan appeared to be at loggerheads with his boss, District Coordination Officer (DCO) Mehmood Javed Bhatti.

Mr Khan set out to launch an expansive anti-encroachment drive in Talagang, but his boss was unwilling to take on such a large scale operation without taking all the stakeholders, politicians and traders into confidence.

However, Mr Khan went ahead despite the DCO’s opposition, and within a matter of days all the markets, plazas, restaurants and other infrastructure alongside either side of the Mianwali-Talagang road had been demolished.

Buildings owned by PML-N politicians and a plaza belonging to a powerful local journalist were among them. Over a thousand shops built three to four decades ago were razed.

A few weeks after the anti-encroachment drive, Mr Bhatti fired his subordinate. The very next day, Mr Khan wrote to the DCO, claiming he did not have the authority to interfere within the matters of the Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA), since the AC was the administrator of the TMA.

Shocked by the letter, the DCO in turn wrote to the chief secretary of Punjab, calling the AC’s attitude problematic and asking that he be removed from Talagang. Based on the DCO’s letter, the higher authorities transferred Mr Khan and surrendered his services to the Rawalpindi division commissioner.

And while the cold war between the two bureaucrats eventually came to an end, it was Talagang’s residents and governance that was the greatest casualty. The anti-encroachment operation spearheaded by Mr Khan was left unfinished, the city was defaced from the drive, and the official responsible for administrating the city was removed from his seat.

Both the officials in question came from different service groups. Mr Bhatti, the DCO, was from the Provincial Management Service (PMS) while Mr Khan was from the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), which is also known as the District Management Group (DMG). The two groups have been at odds since the PMS was set up, and rivalries between officials from both groups reached its peak a few years ago when PMS officials filed a case with the Supreme Court seeking their share of the top bureaucratic posts.

PAS officials, however, think of themselves as the crème de la crème for passing CSS examinations, which are some of the toughest academic examinations in the country. The PAS has always been accused of having the upper hand, and PMS officials believe their rights are usurped by the PAS, who have the lion’s share of top posts.

Syed Saadat, a former civil servant, also said that the PAS has received the lion’s share of important civil service postings.

“Irrespective of the area of expertise the members of DMG have occupied the top positions in almost all service groups ranging from Inland Revenue Service to Railways Group. The DMG officers enjoy very strong camaraderie and when it comes to a choosing between an officer from another service and DMG, the seniors in DMG more often than not back the officers from DMG which helps their influence to grow,” he explained.

He said motivation among officers plummets when an “outsider” occupies a top post within their service group. The officers compete with each other instead of working as a team, which can hamper governance.

“The cold war between these two civil groups has eroded governance and service delivery,” said a senior bureaucrat. But rivalries like these are just one of many flaws within the Pakistani civil service, which requires urgent attention but is being ignored by successive governments.

“Why do top posts like secretaries always fall into the lap of the DMG,” asked a PMS official.

Another said: “The PMS exams are as tough as the CSS exam but even then we are underrated.”

Pakistan’s civil service was inherited from colonial India. Back then, the AC or the district commissioner was considered the sole master of their respective tehsils and districts, whose purpose was to suppress residents through the bureaucrat’s grandeur and high living standards.

“Those grand and spacious houses are still being used as bureaucrats’ residences, whereas they could be turned into public parks or be used for any other welfare purpose for the public,” said an official.

The residence of the Mianwali DCO casts a long shadow on its beholders, because it is spread of several acres.

Corruption within the top bureaucracy is another dark aspect of the Pakistani civil service.

“If you think politicians are the biggest drain on national wealth you are totally wrong,” a senior serving official said. “The silent killers of Pakistan are not politicians, but bureaucrats who are hardly brought to book.”

“Politicians of an area don’t know the technicalities of various projects, which the concerned bureaucrat knows. That is why he can engage in corruption easily without the knowledge of the concerned MNA or MPA,” the official added. “While there are honest and dedicated officials, their number is very small.”

In 2007, the government established reforms commissioner under the hyped Uraan project. Millions were spent on advertisements, but nine years after its establishment the commission has failed to meaningfully reform the civil service.

Mr Saadat suggested that the civil service could be improved if salary structures were, and a fast-tracked promotion system was introduced for competent young officers. He also proposed a tenure system, so that no officer could be transferred without reasons, backed by evidence, before the tenure of the original posting was complete.

“There has been a lot of clamour about reforms, but nothing on the ground has ever been done… The reforms exist only on paper, and nothing practical has come out. Cosmetic changes like increasing the minimum number of years of education for CSS exams would not impact much,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2016


Courtesy Dawn