The key government positions that should be crucial for running the state machinery have become a victim to a game of musical chairs.
Here is the state of affairs for the chiefs of the finance, tax-collection and the Prime Minister’s office.
The Finance Secretary has been reduced to a single-budget position. The PPP's five years in government has seen six persons on this job. Dr Waqar Masood alone has been in and out three times. He was replaced by Farukh Qayyum who was again changed by Waqar. Then Salman Siddique was brought in to replace Waqar again but only for a few months. Now the most important ministry is being run by a retired official Wajid Rana brought in on a yearly contract. What is going on here? Are they short of competent people? Should we trust a person, who is on contract with our budget, financial policies involving billions of rupees as opposed to a regular official who will remain answerable later also? Obviously, people are brought on this job to get ‘things’ done and then get changed when they fail to deliver to one vested interests or another.
The story of the Board of Revenue is not different. It is one up on the Finance Division as it has seen seven chairmen in five years. They are Abdullah Yousaf, Ahmad Waqar, Sohail Ahmad, Salman Siddique, Mehtab Rizwi (acting charge), Mehmood Alam and now, as the finance secretary, the charge has been given to a contractual employee, Ali Arshad Hakeem, for two years. Ha-ha, as if he will survive on this job for two years.
A similar pattern exists on most lucrative jobs from CDA Chairman to Establishment Secretary - nobody stays for long. The security of tenure for two to three years, a concept that was practiced from the days of the British, has been abandoned altogether. It is difficult to blame one person for any mess because of short tenures on the key postings.
The pattern becomes more dangerous when it is practiced with the PM Office also. Siraj Shamsul Hassan was the first Principle Secretary to the PM, then Nargis Sethi came on an Acting charge and then became permanent after promotion to Grade 22. Then Khushnood Lashari left a long trail of corruption charges as the PSM. The incumbent, Ayub Qazi is unique in some ways. Even his batch mates do not know about him. The only mentionable service he ever did was a stint at the PM’s Secretariat. He is known more as the PS to the PM’s family. He cannot be accused of any traces for any distinguishable achievement throughout his service. Yet he stands anointed on the most prized posting that requires super excellence.
It’s a mess. Four parallel secretariats exist for the same job and compete with each other for more perks and privileges. Ideally, the Cabinet Secretariat should be responsible for coordination between the Cabinet and the government. General Mushraf expanded the Presidential Secretariat as he ran the government from there. Mushrraf may have gone and the constitutional powers of the president curtailed in the 18th Amendment but Azis Zardari retains an even bigger staff. Nawaz Sharif built the Mughal-styled PM Secretariat to match President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s power. The situation may have altered but the white elephant with round domes stays with a Special Secretary added by Shaukat Aziz as its head. The PM House too retains a full-fledged staff as the PM hardly goes to his Secretariat. So where does all of this leads to? The bureaucracy has become a huge monster that is now part of the problem than a solution-provider. It requires lots of debate, research and political will to reform it.
For now, a competition is on with their brethren in uniform for securing more perks and privileges. The khakis too have upgraded the posts of director general (DG) of ISPR from a Colonel to a major-general and DG ISI from a Brigadier to Lt-General with eight major-generals working under him. This is just to give you one example and to show where this reverse pyramid, top-heavy model in the civil-military bureaucracy is headed. This goes without saying that the corps commanders, who are basically the uniformed members of the same Club-22, live a far more luxurious life.
But the military bureaucracy may have retained a solid system to groom their elite officers who are given ample exposure to a diversity of field, secretarial and instruction experience to hone their leadership talent. And the criterion for promotion, at least to the level of two-star officers, is reasonably fair. But then a few disturbing trends have emerged on the military side also.
The promotion of three major-generals from the ISI to the rank of Lt-general is a new trend. The impact of so many people from an arm that is trained and indoctrinated for a specific job in such leadership positions is something that we will have to see. A series on them some time later. Inshallah.