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Extra baggage

Our governance system is dysfunctional and bloated. It exists only to preserve the luxuries of an extractive class.  Its dismantling is a prerequisite for the progress of Pakistan.

Extra baggage – Newspaper – DAWN.COM

Naeem Sadiq, May 7, 2024

Undisputedly the most important, the most versatile and the most indispensable person in a government office is someone called a ‘Naib Qasid’, often the only moving component of an otherwise inert machinery. He is the critical hub and an integral element of a governance system designed for a colonial era.  He not only knows the location but also the contents of files and papers that drive and define a government.   ‘Naib Qasids’  carry files from one office to another,  perform housekeeping,  ask visitors to wait,  serve tea to their masters  and search, shelve,  lose, find, misplace  or retrieve files and records – depending upon their mood and motivation.

Using the ‘right to information’ law, our research spread over a sample of fifteen well-known and highly esteemed government organisations, such as  National Savings, Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI), the Supreme Court and  Wafaqi Mohtasib yields some startling results.   First that 23 % of the entire government of Pakistan consists of just one category of individuals – often labelled as ‘Qasids’, ‘Naib Qasids’ and ‘Daftarys’. As per the data graciously provided under the ‘Right to Information’, the Supreme Court tops this list for having 283 (34%) ‘Qasids’and ‘Naib Qasids’, out of a total of 833  regular and contingent employees.  Another prominent mention is the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), that employs 473 ‘Qasids’ out of a total strength of 2356 employees.  Such governance through ‘Naib Qasids’ would be inconceivable in any developed country, where officials must perform their own chores.

The study gets yet more overwhelming as it further reveals that the employees designated as  UDCs, LDCs or Steno typists constitute 26.8 % of the entire government of Pakistan.   Although most offices have acquired computers and most senior officers have acquired laptops (at taxpayers’ expense), there is no let-up in the demand or number of UDCs and LDCs.  One wonders, why emails used by the rest of the world since last 30 years, are still not an accepted form of official correspondence.  Have low skills and high status become our biggest hindrance to progress? Should the conditions of employment not specify that every bureaucrat will carry his own briefcase, drive his own (private) car, clean his own table, receive, respond and file his own mail electronically,  make his own tea, and perform all  other related tasks.

The next mind-boggling segment of employees – 22.7 % of the entire government is sadly composed of ‘chowkidars’ and private security guards. National Savings with 1270 security guards champions this undesirable race, followed by 754 guards of Pakistan Post and 386 chowkidars of BISP.  There is also no guilt of cruelty in our esteemed organisations for engaging guards through private security companies, not registering them with EOBI and paying them less than half the minimum legal wage for performing 12-hour duty each day.

A jaw-dropping conclusion that one can draw from the above study is that 72.5% of the entire government of Pakistan consists of three categories of employees, i.e. ‘Qasids / Naib Qasids’,  “UDCs/ LDCs’  and ‘guards/chowkidars’.  Closely emulating the selection of cabinet ministers, many are inducted on considerations such as ‘relative’, ‘friend’, ‘party’, ‘clan’, or connections.  Must we not ponder as to why does Pakistan Railway operate  with  315 employees per train, while the Indian Railway operates with 53, and the Japanese Railway with 5.9 ?   Why does the Supreme Court of Pakistan operate with 833 employees and the Supreme Court of UK with 64 employees for about the same number of judges?  It is time for us to admit that the only option for Pakistan to become a progressive and competitive nation is to shed about 70 percent of its entire government workforce.

There are at least two main approaches to dismantle this mountain.  First, using technology to perform all those functions that can enhance efficiency and convenience.   National Savings’ latest software that requires no citizen to ever visit a Savings Centre and automatically receive profits in a designated bank is a brilliant example of this approach.  As a result, the National Savings can potentially cut down 70 percent of its employees and branches.  The other approach is to eliminate all that is redundant, superfluous, or ceremonial. Almost all Commissions and Bureaus (NCHR, NCRC, NCSW, ZARRA, NCHD, NTC, NCLIHP, PMYSDP etc.) can be closed and the functions performed by their parent ministries. Numerous ministries such as Health, Human Rights, Religious Affairs and Overseas Pakistanis could be merged and renamed as Ministry for Health & Population. In this manner, Pakistan could reduce the total number of ministries (and logically the ministers) from 32 to 10.  These two approaches ought to be identically emulated by the defence services as well as the provincial governments. Our governance system is dysfunctional and bloated. It exists only to preserve the luxuries of an extractive class.  Its dismantling is a prerequisite for the progress of Pakistan.