Pakistan's Institutional Challenges

Pakistan’s economic woes have once again been in the limelight for a couple of weeks. There have been a lot of buzz words associated with Pakistan’s economic dive for quite some time now, which have once again resurfaced as the experts and analysts dip their nibs in the critique ink: failing industry, trade deficit, miniscule export basket, military overspending, bailout packages and energy issues are some of the tags that are, supposedly, enough to explain the economic crisis of Pakistan. But what most of the experts fail to evaluate is the institutional structure of the public service which is responsible for carving and implementing these policies.

While the economic policy in general and sectoral policies in particular are of paramount importance to the proper functioning of an economy, yet the enforcement of these policies is equally important if not all the more. A policy is as good as its enforcement, because without enforcement a policy is just a set of recommendations jotted on a piece of paper. For the enforcement to be effective it is important that the institutions that are in place to turn the policy into practice are as robust as the policy itself.

Institutions not only define the way policies are designed but also how they will get implemented. Through a deeper probing in the sectoral policies of Pakistan one might be convinced to acknowledge that with time there has been improvement. Policies now have the basis of evidence-based research, adhere to stricter protocols of research and ethics, address the marginalized sections of the society and some are even tailored to special needs of its populace. But the public institutions of Pakistan have been in a state of stagnancy for too long. The post-colonial public offices of Pakistan are still haunted by the ethos of the colonial; this path dependency has resulted in overstaffing, adhering to the outdated ways of doing business and loss of time and efficiency.

There are three major issues with the public institutions of Pakistan which hinder their performance at an optimal potential: [1] Absence of Technology Integrated Systems, [2] Outdated recruitment practices and [3] Discrimination. Solving these issues might not drastically improve the economic fortunes of the country but will definitely help in effective design and implementation of the policies carved to achieve the socioeconomic welfare.

When one walks into a public institution of Pakistan, one cannot help but notice the huge piles of files and paper stacked over almost everything within the four walls with an army of peons hired for the delivery of these files and documents from one office to another. Due to absence of e-office and e-filing systems there are manual registers for records, unending stacks of documents, stenographers who type these documents, and peons who deliver these files. For any institution to be efficient it is important that loss of time and effort is minimized and practices that yield more security and productivity are deployed. Which in this day and age can be achieved through technology and if any office refuses to adopt it, it is deliberately keeping efficacy at bay. Lack of facilities such as computers, e-office management software, e-filing system and statistical analysis packages results in overstaffing; where multiple persons are performing tasks that can be performed by a system, a computer or a software and yet save time and resources and decrease room for error. When an institution uses majority of its resources on these tasks it fails to realize its potential and fails to perform on implementation of the policy that can make a difference.

The ability of any institution to recruit the right people is very important to not only the working conditions of that institution but also the productivity of the institution. The reason why recruitment holds such an importance is because the job will only be done well if the right people are hired to do so. If highly motivated people with the right set of talents are recruited, then the productivity of the institution will increase. The recruitment rules of the entire public service of Pakistan were last refined in 1973. In last 45 years, new fields of study have emerged, new tools and skills have been introduced and new job positions have come to surface, but the public service of Pakistan has remained aloof to it. Even if you are not qualified for a job but if you manage to score well on a general exam, which tests your basic English language, general knowledge and general mathematics, you get into the public service. As Kardar (2014), former governor of State Bank of Pakistan aptly puts it, “In this age of specialization a generalist with an academic qualification in English literature can be secretary education in the morning, secretary health in the afternoon and secretary finance in the evening”.

Working women in Pakistan have a somewhat embellished image due to their daily interactions with men out of their kin and marriage, which is frowned upon in the country. And the few women who do muster up the courage to work are discriminated against, objectified and have to live with misogynistic comments directed at them. This bigotry from the men results in productivity loss as the women are unable to work at their full potential. This patriarchal mindset which has become a hallmark of the public institutions of Pakistan breaks many a dream of talented ambitious women who want to serve their country and make something of themselves. This informal norm at institutions also adversely affects the institution itself. Institutions where from recruitment, promotion and appreciation is based upon the gender of the employee rather than the performance cannot possibly perform at their optimal level.

Discrimination is not only limited to gender at the public institutions of Pakistan, rather the greater division is on the basis of rank of the employees and social status. The discrimination amongst those who are referred to as “Officers” who are usually university and college graduates and “Staff” who are usually high school graduates is to such an extent that they can’t share a meal together or a restroom. There are separate eating places labeled as “Officer’s Mess” and “Staff Canteen”. The division is the same when it comes to restrooms as well: there are “Officer’s toilets” and “Staff toilets”.

This division based on the social status of the employees doesn’t only violate the moral code of conduct but also harness ill feelings amongst the low ranked staff, discouraging them from working properly and causing a loss in productivity. For the institutions entrusted with the responsibility to develop the country as a whole irrespective of the race, religion, gender and social status of the citizens, such divisions at their own offices are inexcusable. These discriminations at an organizational level serve as the foundation for the discriminations practiced on an institutional level, as the smaller provinces of the country complain about the lack of development funds being directed at them.

There is a dire need for institutional restructuring in the public service of Pakistan, because this change will not be a short-term band-aid solution like a bailout with long term adverse consequences, but a step taken in the right direction to build a efficacious public service which will be able to translate policy into practice in a sustainable manner.