Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).


Leave a comment

Playing havoc with the Civil Service, Daily Times, 4 April 2017

Unbridled use of discretion in appointing senior officials is the hallmark of absolute monarchies or dictatorships  

By: Dr Haider Shah 

The recent controversy over promotions of senior members of bureaucracy and the verdict of the Supreme Court have once again rekindled concerns over good governance and the rule of law in the decision making process of government. As the present PML(N) government and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) have always accused their arch rival PPP of bad governance and paraded good governance as their forte, instances of disregard of the rule of law therefore become more conspicuous.

The unbridled use of discretion in making appointments of senior officials can only be found in absolute monarchies or dictatorships. In democracies clear rules and long standing conventions guide and control affairs of the state. If we look at the United States’ constitution we should expect maximum use of discretionary powers as it is based on the doctrine of separation of powers and all executive power is vested in the person of the President. In reality, however, even top level appointments are scrutinised by Senate to ensure that no mandatory requirements had been breached in such appointments.
The bone of contention in the new policy was the introduction of discretionary five marks which gave the CSB an overriding veto power to deprive officers of promotion even if they had otherwise scored enough marks from their performance evaluation reports that entitled them to promotion. The disgruntled officers knocked at the doors of Islamabad High Court in 2015 which declared the use of discretionary 5 marks in confirming promotions illegal and invalid. The government then filed an appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court which dismissed the appeal last month. Consequently the whole promotions policy of the government since 2015 has become invalid.

While the egg of using a discretionary policy to reward and punish senior bureaucrats was still all over government’s face, it went even a step further in making mockery of the highest judiciary’s verdicts. Instead of making amends to a flawed promotions policy, the government began posting beneficiaries of the policy against important assignments. One glaring example is the recent appointment of new IGP of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who was promoted to grade 21 under the same policy last year. Such disregard of the spirit of court’s judgements runs contrary to the demands of good governance in the country.

Any student of history can tell us that a cause common to all revolutions, insurgencies, and other forms of unrest is the prevalence of some kind of grievance among the stakeholders. Good governance has therefore increasingly become one of the most important issues in public administration. For career bureaucrats timely promotions and appointments serve as the most important motivational driver. When junior officers are posted on important positions while senior and competent officers are available this creates a culture of sycophancy and cronyism. A strong association between good performance and high levels of motivation is well established. Disregard to good governance cultivates grievances in the ranks and files of official machinery. If senior managers are demotivated we cannot expect marvels from our civil servants who play an important part in formulation and execution of public policy.

In all good governance frameworks transparency and accountability occupy a central role. When rules are publicly flouted it is important that concerns are raised and courts are approached for judicial review of administrative decisions. If the government wants to exercise unlimited discretion then it should legislate for such exercise of executive power. All existing service related laws and associated rules should be disbanded and replaced by unqualified use of discretionary powers in matters of promotions and appointments. However, as long as the current laws are in force, the government must comply with them.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com


Leave a comment

Sovereignty puzzle in Pakistan, Daily Times, 16 July, 2016

Last year millions of Pakistanis saw on their TV screens merciless beating of a police officer, and ransacking of PTV building in broad daylight. The two most conspicuous icons of the state were publicly humiliated. More deplorable was the fact that the miscreants got away with their display of mocking the state.

And one year later, the open challenge is out on the roads again. This time banners making seditious calls to army appeared mysteriously all over the country in a highly organised manner. To add insult to injury, the perpetrators have begun doing press conferences as well. The Constitution of the country prescribes death penalty for any tampering with the Constitution, and Section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code says: “Whoever abets the committing of mutiny by an officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force of Pakistan, or attempts to seduce any such officer, soldier, sailor, or airman from his allegiance of his duty, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.” Despite these clear provisions of the law of the country it is shocking to see how some miscreants can so easily get away with mockery of the law.

The situation therefore gives rise to a very fundamental question. Who is the sovereign in Pakistan? A state is defined as a territory with three further constituents: people, government and sovereignty. When Pakistan came into being in 1947 the question of sovereignty became a thorny issue. Religion and greater powers for the provinces were the two main demands of the founders of Pakistan. Once Pakistan came into being the two became the source of all problems for our early lawmakers as well as they struggled to find an amicable solution to the competing demands of dividing powers between the central and provincial legislatures, and to find the right place for religion in the scheme of things. At that time, army, commanded by British generals, was in its teething age. It was in mid-1950s that army with the first native chief Ayub Khan also entered the fray, thus further complicating the sovereignty puzzle. The 1973 Constitution to a varying degree was successful in resolving the competing demands of the two original sets of problems. While sovereignty was declared to belong to Allah, its exercise was entrusted to the people of Pakistan through their chosen representatives. The thorny issue of federation was also amicably settled by federal and concurrent lists. The 18th amendment addressed the issue again and assuaged the concerns of smaller provinces.

While the challenges of sovereignty at the constitutional level have been settled the issue of civil-military relations has proved to be like throwing a spanner in the works of constitutional governance. Let us examine two occurrences of public importance in the recent past. The ISPR spokesperson in a televised PowerPoint presentation on the achievements of the Zarb-e-Azb said that army and government are on same page on the Afghan issue. We can easily identify two underlying norms and beliefs in this statement. One, army is something separate and distinct from the government and second, army is in the leadership role and government follows it. If we look at the Constitutional arrangement, army is a department of the ministry of defence (MOD), and all uniformed forces including their chiefs are subordinate officers of secretary, MOD. Either the ISPR spokesperson should avoid public presentations, or he needs proper tutoring in choice of words so that disregard for Constitution of the country is not seen to be floating on the surface.

The second example is the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) of the great humanist Abdul Sattar Edhi. While president of the country, chairman of Senate, and chief ministers of various provinces stood on sidelines, the army chief who is a subordinate officer of one of the ministries of the government, stood in the middle. If in the real world that is the situation, it should better remain hidden from the public eye as the veneer of constitutionalism should not be so brazenly peeled off.

When the British parliament through its government decided to use army in Ireland the army generals acted accordingly, and when the government settled for an Irish solution army did not cry foul. Similarly, when the British government held a referendum in Scotland on the independence question, no one asked the army chief about his opinion. Recently, when the British people voted in favour of leaving the EU by a thin majority, again no press release from the British Army was released. No doubt, input of the security establishment on strategic and security issues is always obtained and considered important, but the final say is always of the political masters in democratic countries. One can clearly ascertain this in Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars with regard to development of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.

It seems that Pakistan is passing through a crisis of multiple dimensions. Externally, it is at daggers drawn with its neighbours. Internally, it is fighting a war with the militants that it once itself created. And now the corpse of sovereignty of the state is being dragged in the streets of major cities of Pakistan, while the government helplessly watches the gory scene. Today the state in Pakistan is as much threatened by sycophants and ambitious messiahs as by militant extremists.