As the number of super bureaucrats and their perks keeps growing, this begs a question: how much do they cost us and what do they give us in return.
I calculated the cost of an average 22-Grader in a survey that I did a few years ago. It was over one million rupees, quantifying the rent of their official posh houses, the cost of fuel, vehicles and utilities. It may have gone up now. Interestingly, the basic salary of a 22-Grader is not more than Rs 100000 but the meat is in allowances and perks. The perks are drawn so smartly that it is not easy to decipher. For instance, Information Secretaries, as ex-officio chairman of the PTC and the PCB, have been known to avail the perks these two organizations over and above their entitlement - a car from here and utility bills from there sort of arrangement. And who decides these entitlements and perks—bureaucrats themselves.
The recently devised monetization policy should explain the point. The babus were generally criticized for misusing official vehicles and fuel for picking up children from school and for buying groceries. The situation was so bad that the Auditor General informed the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that 14,000 cars out of the total 18,000 in 296 government departments were being misused. So a system was devised to end the usage of official cars. A Grade-22 officer, instead of official perks, was given around Rs 225000 monthly as monetization package that includes around Rs 90000 as transport compensation. The idea was to avoid misuse by selling them official cars—by the way at depreciated price and in easy installments. They got the car or the money. The package cost the government around Rs 4 billion annually. The government hoped that the ministries would return the surplus cars. It turns out that the ministries are asking for more cars for ‘official’ duties now. Confusing, isn’t it.
Here is what happened. After gobbling down this huge monthly package, the rules were changed to allow the usage of cars for “official purposes only.” So who is going to stop the boss from using official car for grocery-shopping. You will still see half of the cars outside any Islamabad school bearing official number plates. Now, they get the money, a free private car for mothers-in-law and they still use official cars. It’s not over yet. The Finance Ministry official who was supposed to certify that the official cars were not being misused was recently reported to have three official cars for his family. The PAC hit the roof over this and ordered an inquiry. It is now being done by, who else, three fellow bureaucrats.
The babus make their own budget, perks, rules and bend them whenever it suits them. The situation in autonomous bodies is even worse. The Presidency, the PM Secretariat, PEMRA, PTA, NEVTAC and a host of such greener pastures enjoy special privileges in salary and perks, including a Presidential Allowance. The thumb rule is: the worse you perform the better you get paid. The Chairmen of OGRA responsible for the shortage in natural gas and CNG, and the NEPRA that has gifted us power loadshedding are rewarded with MP-1 Scale. This means a salary package of half a million rupees and a host of other perks. The same is the case with other regulatory bodies. And we are not talking about the corrupt practices that are widely prevalent.
The PTV Chairman gets a salary of one million rupees, allowances worth half a million rupees, free car (etc) and a three percent commission from the PTV’s marketing earnings. The monthly package comes to about seven million rupees. And the largest sum of this is paid from the money that every home forcibly pays as PTV surcharge through utility bills. Why? The PTV, unlike the BBC, propagates for the sitting government and not for the state. But then who cares.
It is more royal in provinces where bureaucrats retain the vice-regal perks left by the British. They love to replicate that. The office of the Punjab Chief Secretary, with its high ceiling, teak wood remains as majestic as it was during the time of the Gora Bahadur. Even the mannerism, in which tea is served, the cutlery and crockery bearing the official insignia, is the same. Some bungalows still have their own dhobi-ghaats and servant colonies. The accommodation in district is spread over acres.
A small sample should explain how bad the situation has become. The missing former Punjab Chief Secretary Javed Mahmood was sent on ‘Special Duty’ when he was accused of running over an army colonel. For the 15 months that he lived in that huge mansion at 2-Shannon Road, he kept four drivers, four sanitary workers, six cooks and gardeners. Four luxury cars and seven phone lines remained in his use. The government paid, besides his salary, Rs 3 million only in utility bills. For what, supervising his family agriculture in free time. All of this happening under the ‘clean and strong’ administration of the Khadim-i-aala.
What do they give us in return, one may ask. The military, the media and even our Lordships get their share of criticism. They are the least grilled class as they are the master of suppressing information. Everything shrouds in mystery.
The babus have become so partisan that in most cases one can tell who is with which political party. In some cases, they behave as family servants. The Saeed Mehdis, Ahmad Sadiqs and Javed Mahmoods of this world represent this class of sycophants. The entire structure of the civil bureaucracy is in the pits.
Ask a bureaucrat, he or she will say they went down as the society went down. But then the critics might say that they have a big share in the deterioration that we see around us because the mandarins nurtured on special privileges were supposed to give solutions. Where is the pride in doing a good job, the competence and the integrity? They want the best perks without giving anything in return.