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Physician, heal thyself

Naeem Sadiq Published June 22, 2024  Updated about 6 hours ago
 THIS article is not intended to be sarcastic, impolite, cheeky, critical, disrespectful, or defamatory. It is, in fact, intended to be just the opposite. Although focused on analysing the structure and statistics of one of the most important and prestigious organisations of Pakistan — the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) — this case study is just as valid for any other government department. The study explains how organisations can get bogged down under their own weight and what may be done to turn them around.

According to the data provided under the right to information law, FBR has generously stockpiled 18,332 employees on its payroll — 15,132 of them in Grade 1 to 16 and 3,200 in Grade 17 to 22. While the world pushes for flat hierarchies, FBR moves in the opposite direction — dividing and subdividing employees into 22 layers and 120 unique and questionable job designations.

Even a basic numerical analysis of the 18,332 FBR employees begins to unveil a monumental warehouse of manpower. FBR on its payroll, has 38 persons deployed as ‘record sorters’, 63 as ‘qasid’, 273 as ‘bailiffs’, 517 as ‘notice servers’, 546 as ‘daftari’ and 1,592 as ‘naib qasids’. Thus FBR employs 2,839 individuals to perform almost identical tasks under different designations created merely to justify more hands. Consider yet another example. On FBR’s payroll are 30 ‘private secretaries’, 42 ‘secretaries’, 134 ‘assistant private secretaries’, 135 ‘assistants’, 309 ‘superintendents’, 356 ‘data entry operators’, 434 ‘steno typists’, 655 ‘supervisors’, and 1,430 lower division and 1,751 upper division clerks. Having 5,276 employees performing indistinguishable tasks can give rise to confusion, errors, delays, red tape, and speed money within an organisation.

While FBR ought to review its employment of 177 ‘chowkidars’, 179 ‘havaldars’, 194 ‘armed guards’, and 2,406 ‘sepoys’, it must also question as to how it ended up with three ‘camel men’, 11 ‘lady searchers’, 13 ‘water carriers’, 18 ‘telephone operators’, 52 ‘farash’, 172 ‘malis’ and 293 sanitary workers. If all this gives you a creepy feeling of disproportionality — in numbers, layers and designations — you have reached the correct diagnosis. Excess, irrelevance and redundancy would cause any organisation to become sluggish and ineffective. Such massive surplus baggage is sufficient to sink any Titanic even when there’s no iceberg in sight.

Excess causes any organisation to become sluggish.

Must we not ask as to which other organisation in the world employs 15,000 workers for tasks such as carrying files, cleaning tables, typing letters, making tea, holding visitors at bay, delivering messages, entering data, sending letters, reminding forgetful bosses, and losing, finding, misplacing or retrieving files and records? The world over, these tasks are routinely performed by managers themselves. Our government departments are loaded with conveniences that only add to red tape, delays, confusion, corruption, and atrophy. The luxury of hundreds of clerks and gofers at your beck and call is a colonial legacy discontinued by sane and progressive nations.

The following real-life example may help to explain how bureaucracy and overcrowding can create organisational dysfunctionality. A three-room government organisation employs a sweeper, an ayah and a peon for the upkeep of its 180 square yard premises. The sweeper insists that his job is solely to clean the floors of one half, while the ayah must do the same for the other. When asked why the walls and cupboards were covered in grime, the sweeper maintained that his job was only to clean floors and not the walls or furniture. He claimed it was the peon’s responsibility to clean the furniture. However, the peon said that his only job was to dust ‘sahib’s’ table and serve tea. As a result, the government office remained filthy while the sweeper watched movies, the ayah slept, and the peon relaxed in the garden.

FBR spends Rs25 billion only on the salaries, allowances and perks of its 18,332 employees every year. Add to this the cost of electricity, buildings, fuel, vehicles, equipment, and numerous operating expenses, and the total may well exceed Rs50bn per year. It operates with an armada of 1,244 government vehicles and an army of 975 drivers — entirely at the taxpayers’ expense. Its output could best be measured by the fact that only 1.8 per cent of people file tax returns and only 1pc pay any tax. It is time for FBR and for every government department to undertake massive organisational liposuction, shed two-thirds of the fat, eliminate all redundant designations, adopt technology and compel the managers to exercise their own limbs and neurons. What is holding Pakistan back is nothing but a physician who is unwilling to heal himself.