Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Bureaucracy and Change

While new technologies, new paradigms of governance, and new management structures are being put forward the bureaucracy of Pakistan is driving into the future using only rear view mirror.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, change is everywhere. The reality of yesterday proves wrong today, and nobody really knows what will be the truth tomorrow. Social, political and economic change has come fast like a small boat dancing on the waves. People feel that they do not have any influence In the mainstream of this environmental milieu, people of Pakistan are detesting bureaucracy, from inside and outside: red tape, punctiliousness, delay, extra social overhead, unresponsive monopoly of authority; professional deficiency; and obsolete policy planning.

Below the politically appointed ministers is the civil service. Efforts to reform and modernize the traditional civil service were never made to improve the professional competencies of senior civil servants. The prevailing unanswered issues demonstrate that the training acquired by government officers at NIPA or Pakistan Administrative Staff College is ineffective, redundant and unproductive. Thus the need to reform has fallen behind its expansion in size and functions, making Pakistan an over-administered society. All governments pared back the state's control over the economy but failed to restrain the growth of the state bureaucracy and allowed its standards and efficiency to decline.

Our bureaucracy tries to fulfill government strategies, which had been formulated years ago, under totally different baseline conditions. Service quality is often not more than an empty phrase. The competence of our bureaucracy can be measured from the fact that it could not workout a policy for urbanization. Consequently, luckless consumers continue to be treated worse than one-time colonial rulers. Everyone has tales of dealing with bureaucrats who seem utterly unsympathetic to real problems and explain why the rules don’t allow a solution.

Our bureaucracy has utterly failed in using creativity in policy making. Thus, it could not generate new ideas for issues like unemployment, economic development and poverty alleviation. Management creativity is about using simple techniques to find innovative solutions to prevailing problems. And creativity, which is extraterrestrial skill to our bureaucracy, isn't just nice-to-have. In a fast change, furious public administration, it's a matter of survival.

Change happens. And while we can't control much of the world changing around us, we should know how to respond. We can choose to anticipate and embrace changes or resist them. Resisting change is like trying to push water upstream. Our bureaucracy is recognized as the one that resists change. It's much harder for bureaucracy to admit to its own change resistance.

Pakistan’s bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status. (Status Quo Ante Erat is, literally, state of things as it was before, meaning the present current, existing state of affairs. "Maintaining the Status quo" usually connotes to "keep things the way they presently are").

There are some problems with bureaucracies: red tape, duplication, and waste. Red tape is the existence of complex rules and procedures that must be followed to get something done. Duplication occurs when two government agencies seem to be doing the same thing, such as when the Customs Service and the Narcotics Control Board both attempt to intercept illegally smuggled drugs.

Our bureaucratic structure has failed owing to lack of management scientists, competent economists, and outstanding professionals. Brain drain is another reason. No institution has ever attempted to develop a national agglomeration of competent managers. All academic institutions are ineffective.

Today's bureaucracy continues without an object, multiple layers of unneeded staff, endless reports with little value, and gridlock. The basic managerial models and practices within government are behind those used today. The system itself facilitates entrenchment, mediocrity, decay and inertia. Given these assertions as premises it should be explored what can be learned and translated from the private sector's organizational structures and practices to cause a renaissance in bureaucracy. Organizational schema as well as leadership and managerial practices can be explored for their potential to contribute to bureaucracy.

The amount of information and data is doubling every few years. Even in poorer economies Intranet is being used for inter-department data transfer, files exchange, and information share, but our bureaucracy is far from the fundamental concepts of Management Information Service. In this situation of sheer chaos, suddenly computer network offers a new order. When the world has largely benefited from the fruits of computer use, a question might be asked: do our government managers know computer basics?

The bureaucracy of Pakistan should move away from rule governance to value-based management. Value-based management seeks to give employees more freedom when carrying out their job functions. In a time of radical change, increased public expectations and many new tasks, the bureaucratic structure needs to be able to provide a flexible service. Rules and procedures, which are far too rigid, can prevent the public obtaining a service that matches their needs and wishes. But if value-based management is to work, a common set of values is required.

The goal - or vision - for value-based management should be the set of values adopted by Pakistan’s civil bureaucracy. These values require that Islamabad, as the capital and influential center for South Asian Region, must act as the driving force behind human, cultural and economic development. It is imperative that our bureaucracy can provide services, which transforms it to a role model.

We need to inculcate professionalism, expertise, competence and systems to make our civil services, meet the realities of the 21st century. This is high time to part ways from poor governance, inertia, lack of knowledge that spawned a culture in which wasteful expenditures, leakages of resources and low efficiency are the norm. Sound policies cannot see the light of day until our institutional capacity is strengthened and reoriented. Change in the brass tacks of our bureaucracy provides a way into the future. (

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