Why we lack good governance

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE state of governance is the single most important factor that determines the quality of public services provided to the citizens of a country. Many independent bodies and aid agencies that have looked into Pakistan’s development problems have attributed the malaise in public services — be they education, health, housing, water supply, transport, or sanitation — to poor administration.

A World Bank and ADB mission, which visited Karachi to discuss the preliminary findings of the Sindh Economic Report last year, wrote, “Poor governance is the root cause of most ills that plague the public sector of Sindh.”

Although this finding was with specific reference to Sindh, it is something that applies to the whole country. The above mentioned report rings a bell when it states that poor governance is due to lack of political will and to weak managerial and technical capacity. Two “avenues” the World Bank and the ADB describe as manifesting poor governance are: lack of merit based recruitments and the high frequency of staff transfers. It is well known that these observations apply to all provinces as well as the federal government.

When people who do not qualify for a job on merit are recruited for political reasons or monetary concerns the quality of governance suffers. They lack the knowledge, proficiency and training to perform the job assigned to them. And when the turnover is rapid, someone who has merit may not be able to make an impact because one needs some time in a post to understand the nature of the work and analyse the strategy that would be most effective.

The fact is that every government that has been in office has used employment in the public sector to promote a spoils system of sorts. With hundreds of thousands of jobs of all calibre under their control, it is not strange that those striding the corridors of power have wanted to dole out these jobs to men and women who are perceived as being loyal to their benefactors. It serves both the parties well. Those at the helm, who very often need a popular base to remain in office, have the reassurance of knowing that they will command unquestioning allegiance and will have nothing to fear from their subordinates.

For those who get employment — in many cases after years of job hunting — a job, even though undeserved, is a boon. They may not even be sufficiently qualified and would never have got employment on merit. Moreover, there are cases of elected rulers collecting huge sums in return for the favour done to them. If in the process the people suffer because governance is not up to the mark or is corrupt, who cares?

The high frequency of transfers serves the same purpose. The Sindh government’s rules of business stipulate that the staff will remain at a post for at least three years before anyone is transferred. But what do we have? In recent years, the tenure of the secretaries of eight key departments has been about 10 months each. Yet any officer who becomes ‘difficult’ is moved out of the way. Others are transferred to a ‘coveted’ post as a favour to reward them for their loyalty. In the police departments thanas are auctioned as some of them are known to be lucrative.

Obviously, all this affects the efficiency of governance and the quality of the services provided to the people. Article 242 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of the Federal Public Service Commission and the provincial public service commissions. Not that this changes the poor standards of education in the country but one can at least hope for the best to be selected.

The commissions have themselves been complaining that the performance of most candidates has been average or below average. On account of this, very often all posts are not always filled due to non-availability of suitable candidates. Thus in Sindh, 17 posts of the 28 advertised for the education department in 2004 were left vacant. In the health department the situation was worse. Of the 361 posts advertised the same year no suitable candidate was found for 284.

Since the commissions are designed to be independent bodies and ostensibly not influenced by political considerations technically it can be assumed that they would keep merit as the criterion for appointment to the services. Because of that these bodies quite often have ended up trampling on the toes of the higher administration.

Take the case of the Federal Public Service Commission. The chairman of the FPSC, a retired general, fell out with the prime minister. To clip his wings, the president promulgated an ordinance reducing the tenure of the chairman and all members of the commission from five years to three years. Not to take things lying down the general went to court. He lost his case in the high court but has now moved the Supreme Court, while the ordinance has been re-promulgated after it lapsed after six months.

In Sindh, too, the chief minister is finding it difficult to come to terms with his commission which has had to put up with the gradual erosion of powers. On February 2, 2006, the Sindh chief minister cancelled the results of the examination the Sindh Public Service Commission (SPSC) had announced the previous day, alleging malpractices. These tests had been held to fill in 700 posts of medical officers. Out of 9,650 candidates who had appeared, 1,672 had been selected for the interview. The matter is now in court.

The chief minister has openly expressed little confidence in the commission and has been accusing it of lacking integrity and transparency. He announced that an inquiry would be conducted into the affairs of the commission. Whether the inquiry has been completed or not is not known. If the inquiry has been held its findings are not public knowledge. Although malpractice was alleged only in the recruitment of medical officers , the government issued a directive to all departments to withdraw all their requisitions being processed by the SPSC. So the commission members sit twiddling their thumbs because they are not being allowed to function.

The icing on the cake is the announcement by the chief minister in June that 45,000 employees will be recruited in various departments of the Sindh government “without involving the SPSC in the process”. He declared that these appointments will be purely on “merit” but on a “contractual” basis for a year.

Since under the SPSC Act of 1989 as amended in 2001 it is the governor who exercises control over the commission, Dr Arbab Rahim now finds himself locked in a tussle with Governor Ishratul Ebad. At stake is the survival of the coalition in the province. Meanwhile, the chief minister denied the rumours that the two coalition partners had reached a compromise and entered into an accord on job quotas for their supporters. Whether there is any truth in it or not one doesn’t know but the City District Government Karachi has proceeded to bypass the SPSC and make its own appointments for senior posts as well.

When this is how members of the administration are selected, can one really have good governance in the country? In this scheme of things can one even hope for honest governance?