It’s a Punjabi bureaucracy
It’s a Punjabi bureaucracy
If you want to judge the Punjabi dominance in Pakistan, the armed forces may not be the best indicator as is generally assumed. It’s the top civil bureaucracy through which Punjab dominates this country.
For the starters, the per capita Pashtun representation in the top military hierarchy exceeds that of Punjabis. In other spheres, the population edge of the Punjabi legislatures in the National Assembly is partially balanced by equal number of members from each province in the Senate. Media and the judiciary may not be the exclusive Punjabi clubs. Even a cursory look at the Club-22 of bureaucrats will tell you that it’s a Punjabi monopoly.
Out of the 58 civil officers heading 44 divisions and the President and Prime Minister’s secretariats, there are just six Pashtuns, five sindhis, three of them Muhajirs and just two Baloch, one of them again a Punjabi settler. In Balochistan’s case, the trend is not likely to change as not a single Baloch based in Federal Secretariat is in Grade 21, just one in Grade 20 and then no one even in Grade 19. No question of a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or an Ahmadi coming 5000 yards close to this exclusively Muslim Club—Alhamdulillah.
The list includes Grade-22 officers on contract and the acting heads in Grade 21. This in the so-called Sindh dominated PPP government. Imagine when the overly clannish Lahori Kashmiris takes over. It will be reduced to a re-do of Takht Lahore—Seraiki province be damned.
This comes to about 80 percent Punjabi representation. The affirmative action in the shape of quotas allotted to smaller provinces and less developed areas as Azad Kashmir in the competitive selection examinations gets whittled down as the officials go up in promotions. The Punjabi brethren ensure that the ‘martial race’ remains dominant.
Another trend that keeps the top official structure lopsided is the sectional monopoly of the DMG Group now called as Pakistan Administrative Service (PAC). Of the 37 regular Grade-22 officers based in Islamabad, there are just two from the Customs, one from the Foreign Service (the Foreign Secretary) and the one from Information service stands retired. The three Office Management Group (OMG) members in Grade-22 exist because of an anomaly. The OMG, which remains one of the least-opted services in the competitive examinations, remained suspended for ten years and hence got ‘unusual promotions.’ A ruling from the Federal Service Tribunal, incidentally given by one officer from the OMG, helped making it mandatory for the other cadres to get the seniority from the time that they will join the Secretariat Group.
The DMG/PAC cadres guard the turf watchfully. The Supreme Court asked the government to make some minimum basis for the promotions. This was after 54 officers in Grade 22 were promoted in one go. The ‘rule-framers’ dominated by the GMG/FAS made it mandatory for a minimum of two years service in Grade 21 and a three years service (plus six months training) in Grade 20 for a move-over. This suits the DMG/PAC because they ensure that the promotions in other groups remain slower. This will make the structure even more lopsided in the coming years as only the DMG/PAC officers will fulfill the requirement.
The recent summary by the Establishment Division to remove the condition of three years for the Grade 20 officers, now deferred by the Prime Minister for one year, was an attempt to correct the growing imbalance. But the mighty DMG/PAS, backed by the misunderstood media criticism, stalled what may have been a right step.
The primary concern should be to skim the best cream out of the existing government machinery. Amidst this fight over sectional interests, the war over the cadres and turf, the biggest casualty is the quality of officers that come out of it.
Of course, the DMG/PAC babus are right that being the most superior service they should be given some precedence. But to the extent that this structure has become lopsided in their favour is maddening if not callous.
Officers improve and deteriorate in accordance with their exposure, hard work and circumstances in life. The whole government machinery cannot be held hostage to one examination (on average 35 years ago) in the beginning. No mid-level re-evaluation exists. The results of the two senior management courses in Grade 20 and 21 only make a partial difference in promotions.
Former State Bank Governor Ishrat Hussain in a study on official reforms suggested that the cadres should be given another examination at Grade 19 to re-evaluate their capabilities and performance. Some countries borrow talent from private sector at mid-level. But we do it as one-off favour as was given to Dr Waqar Masood. Waqar remains the most hated person among the cadres because of his lateral entry by Benazir Bhutto straight in Grade 21 and later got promoted by Farooq Leghari in Grade 22 in 1997. This makes the longest serving Federal Secretary in the country’s history. Normally, if an officer gets to serve for five years in Grade 22 he or she is lucky. He stays at the top for the last 15 years with another four to go.
It may not be a bad idea to include members from the provincial services also. They may not be efficient in paperwork or less articulate in King’s English but they bring a treasure of local exposure. Now, how can Islamabad make any policy on Balochistan when it has only three officers in the top three grades from the province. The two in Grade 19 are here on deputation from the provincial service.
None of the recommendations was accepted. And as things stand today, there is little chance of this happening in near future also. Long live Takht-i-Lahore.
Mojaan hi Mojaan for babus-V
I have always admired Salman Farooqui as one of the smartest bureaucrats that this country has ever produced. He epitomizes his creed as nobody else. I wrote his eulogy around 17 years ago in which I mentioned small incidents that described the big picture of the man and the bureaucracy culture.
One of the stories that floated around the Capital was that a politician got a call that he had been nominated as a minister and that he should rush to the Presidency in a sherwani for oath-taking. The problem was that he did not have a sherwani. As he was worried about it somebody knocked the door. A servant stood there with a wardrobe of sherwanis, a small note attached to it, saying “Congratulations—Salman Farooqui.” The minister never forgot the small gesture.
In another incident, old friend journalist Shaheen Sehbai and I met Salman at a party. As Salman bragged about his achievements as the Secretary Communications, Shaheen criticized him by saying that it was still so difficult to get a telephone connection. It was a big issue in those days and Shaheen could not get one in months. As we returned to our offices in a couple of hours, Shaheen’s wife was on telephone line, confused and shouting, “what the hell is going on.” It turned out that a whole brigade of workers had dug out his entire street, laid out the cable and poles, installed the telephone and then asked his wife to call Shaheen from his home number and confirm it. All of this happened in two hours.
You had to give him the credit. Whichever ministry he joined became the centre of activity-sometimes for wrong reasons. He was the Communication Secretary when the Motorway was launched and the cellular revolution in Pakistan popped up. He was the Petroleum Secretary when the Energy Policy was formulated and the now-forgotten Independent Power Plants (IPPs) were installed. It was much criticized in those days but the argument that it is better to have expensive electricity than not to have it seems, in retrospect, fair. The electricity from the IPPs is now the cheapest thermal electricity we have. The Indo-Pakistan trade negotiations started when Salman was the commerce minister. He even turned around the inconsequential Environment Ministry. Remember when Benazir got Asif Zardari made In-charge of the Environment to score even with the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Salman got every corporation in Pakistan sowing plants all over the country using Asif’s terror.
But then he also loved the glamour and the glitz. He was the most prominent power player in the 1990s. That cost him a lot as he got singled out when the tables got turned for the PPP in 1997. I saw the height of his career when he reigned supreme in the power alleys. I am also a witness to his worst — the worst that no babu ever went through such being the vengeance of Nawaz Sharif.
He was handed over to Mian Saheb’s Gustapo Chief Saifur Rehman for interrogation of corruption charges.
I got a call from Salman’s wife requesting me to meet Salman when he was brought to the PIMS Hospital after getting sick. Salman was kept in tight security but his wife persuaded a police constable on duty to allow a meeting with him. It was arranged shoddy, dark storeroom that was hardly enough to keep two coffins. I can never forget that sight: One of the mightiest men in Pakistan sitting on the floor with dump all around him. The stench was intolerable. Salman started crying the moment he saw me, showing his body that had cigarette burn marks all over. Ihtesabur Rehman, as the butcher was known, loved to torture by burning skin with cigarette butts. As Salman told me his tragic story, shirtless, tears rolling down his cheeks, the constable butted in every now and then to remind us that my time was over. I saw Salman’s wife literally begging the ‘lowly’ constable to allow us some more minutes. The constable rudely told her, “baji meri nokri da sawal ae.” It was nightmarish.
I could not help Salman much except for spreading the word around. He left the country the moment he got the chance. He was out of limelight for a decade. I thought he would never return to Pakistan. Than came 2008 elections, the PPP in government again, he returned with a bang — such being the lure of power.
But this time he has learnt his lessons. He still retains similar power by running the Presidential Secretariat. He controls a bigger staff than was kept by General Musharaff with one super Secretary on contract in Grade 22, four Additional Secretaries in Grade 21 (two awaited) and officers on subsequent grades by the dozens. He remote controls the entire government from the Hill up there. Most of the key instructions are given on paper chits this time, hence, no proof.
At 70 plus, he is enjoying such power and perks for the last five years, but no glitz, glamour or limelight this time.
Salman has kept the four-year tenure post of Federal Ombudsman vacant for the last two years, thus creating a huge pile-up of cases. Now he is busy ‘turning around’ the Ombudsman’s office on a temporary change. We know he plans to move there when the Presidency job expires. As if such tenure jobs will survive in a non-PPP government. But trust him for good planning, the smart man that he is.
I have never seen him after the meeting in that stench store, though he sends a packet of Medina dates every Ramadan. Will say ‘no’ next time his wife calls me from there. You asked for it, Salman. Give way!
Mojaan hi Mojaan for babus-IV
Nargis Sethi is the perhaps the best example that explains what is wrong with our bureaucracy. Before I launch my critique and get accused of being anti-women, I must confess that Ms Sethi deserves credit for reaching to this level that remains, as other fields, a male-dominated bureaucracy. She is a hard worker.
Let’s forget her gender, the issue is that she was the Principle Secretary to (ex) Prime Minister (PSPM) Yousaf Raza Gilani before she became Cabinet Secretary holding the additional charge of Water and Power. The PSPM is the most prized posting in the civil bureaucracy. Technically, if I am spared my life, this is equivalent to the Chief of General Staff (CGS) in the Army if not the mightier Army Chief.
A minimum requirement for this job is that he or she should have a diverse exposure of all the arms of bureaucracy in the provinces, the Centre and preferably a stint abroad as well. He or she should have worked in districts to understand the dynamics of FATA to Mastung to the Punjab and Sindhi rural heartlands and the mechanics of big cities as Lahore and Karachi. The PSPM, at the centre, should have ample exposure of key ministries such as the Finance, Establishment and various secretariats. The PSPM is supposed to be the top class as he or she advises the PM on national policy and its implementation.
How much Ms Sethi fits into the criteria? She had hardly served in the provinces. Her biggest exposure to the world is her bureaucracy stint in the Economic Affairs Division and a long service in the inconsequential Aviation Wing of the Defence Ministry. This was as far from the bureaucratic power centre as Islamabad from North Pole. So how did she land as the PSMP?
Was it luck, smartness, loyalty or circumstances? A little bit of everything I would say. She got a chance to become a joint Secretary in Grade 20 in 2008 with the then PSPM Siraj Shamsuddin. Siraj had suffered a long hardship while in exile in London and was rewarded with this post as a Salman Farooqui prodigy. The idea was to remote control Gilani through a loyalist PSPM. Six months at the Prime Minister’s office, Ms Sethi got herself promoted in Grade 21. As time went by, Gilani wanted a little more freedom and started resisting micro management from the Zardari camp office in F-8.
Ms Sethi was smart to see the gap between the two power poles and started briefing Gillani on what was being dictated from the Asif camp. In due time, Asif Zardari became the President and Salman Farooqui the chief string-puller at the Presidency. Gilani wanted Sartaj out who in turn also opted to leave for greener pastures in Manila. Nargis Sethi became the junior-most officer ever to take over the senior most assignment in the country’s history. The issue was that she being the junior-most even in grade 21 could only be acting PSPM. We all know the rest that how she got the whole Club-22 crossed 50-member mark just for her own promotion and ruining the service in the process. Professionalism was sacrificed at the altar of personal loyalty. I must say her successor, Khushnood Lashari, given the trail of corruption charges that he has left, was even worse.
Forget the prized PSPM, even a Federal Secretary is supposed to have ample experience of the provinces and the Centre to become eligible. Not too long time ago, the Chief Secretaries and Police Inspector Generals in the provinces were kept in grade 21, let alone the posts of the Chairman of the Planning Division and the Senior Member of the Board of Revenue. It was largely because of the Sharif Brother’s Punjabi favouritism that these positions got upgraded, betraying a certain ‘supremacy’ that the Punjabis are rightly accused of. Half of these posts in ‘smaller’ provinces are still held by grade 21-officers.
We have Grade-22 officers who have never served in the Centre at all. And then we have the ‘Centrists’ who have earned Grade 22 just by moving from block of Islamabad to another. They have never served in the provinces at all, particularly in the OMG, Mushtaq Malik being an exception. At least 70 per cent of Grade-22 officers may not have visited Balochistan in the last ten years even once. A tradition existed for a federal secretary to visit all the provinces at least once a year. Not any longer. Most of them remain attached to their boxes and corners fighting over their power and perks, transfer and postings. But will fight valiantly when it will come to their turf and sectional interests—merit be damned.
I think it was Plato who suggested that one wrong doctor will only kill a patient or two but one wrong statesman, by which he also meant a bureaucrat, will destroy the state. After the Greeks and the Romans, the Chinese civilization stood on the quality of its mandarins. The great Ottomans thrived on its slaves groomed from childhood to run the affairs of the state. The Slave Dynasty in the Sub-continent inherited that from their Turkish roots, which was later improved by the Mughals. The British refined it to its finest heights for one hundred thousands British to ‘control’ 25 million Indians for 150 years. India has sifted much of the colonial baggage and using its bureaucracy as the engine of the ‘Incredible India’ (though its over-cautiousness is now also accused for slowing Indian growth).
What have we done to that great inheritance? It was so pathetic recently when the Indian Commerce team arrived in Islamabad to finalize the crucial trade negotiations. The counterparts here did not even know the Pakistani position and were found running helter-skelter to get hold of old-timers to draft their response till late at night.
If the epitome of Plato’s Republic in Pakistan is Nargis Sethi, forgive me all feminists, then God save Pakistan.
Mojaan hi Mojaan for babus-III
As the number of super bureaucrats and their perks keeps growing, this begs a question: how much do they cost us and what do they give us in return.
I calculated the cost of an average 22-Grader in a survey that I did a few years ago. It was over one million rupees, quantifying the rent of their official posh houses, the cost of fuel, vehicles and utilities. It may have gone up now. Interestingly, the basic salary of a 22-Grader is not more than Rs 100000 but the meat is in allowances and perks. The perks are drawn so smartly that it is not easy to decipher. For instance, Information Secretaries, as ex-officio chairman of the PTC and the PCB, have been known to avail the perks these two organizations over and above their entitlement - a car from here and utility bills from there sort of arrangement. And who decides these entitlements and perks—bureaucrats themselves.
The recently devised monetization policy should explain the point. The babus were generally criticized for misusing official vehicles and fuel for picking up children from school and for buying groceries. The situation was so bad that the Auditor General informed the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that 14,000 cars out of the total 18,000 in 296 government departments were being misused. So a system was devised to end the usage of official cars. A Grade-22 officer, instead of official perks, was given around Rs 225000 monthly as monetization package that includes around Rs 90000 as transport compensation. The idea was to avoid misuse by selling them official cars—by the way at depreciated price and in easy installments. They got the car or the money. The package cost the government around Rs 4 billion annually. The government hoped that the ministries would return the surplus cars. It turns out that the ministries are asking for more cars for ‘official’ duties now. Confusing, isn’t it.
Here is what happened. After gobbling down this huge monthly package, the rules were changed to allow the usage of cars for “official purposes only.” So who is going to stop the boss from using official car for grocery-shopping. You will still see half of the cars outside any Islamabad school bearing official number plates. Now, they get the money, a free private car for mothers-in-law and they still use official cars. It’s not over yet. The Finance Ministry official who was supposed to certify that the official cars were not being misused was recently reported to have three official cars for his family. The PAC hit the roof over this and ordered an inquiry. It is now being done by, who else, three fellow bureaucrats.
The babus make their own budget, perks, rules and bend them whenever it suits them. The situation in autonomous bodies is even worse. The Presidency, the PM Secretariat, PEMRA, PTA, NEVTAC and a host of such greener pastures enjoy special privileges in salary and perks, including a Presidential Allowance. The thumb rule is: the worse you perform the better you get paid. The Chairmen of OGRA responsible for the shortage in natural gas and CNG, and the NEPRA that has gifted us power loadshedding are rewarded with MP-1 Scale. This means a salary package of half a million rupees and a host of other perks. The same is the case with other regulatory bodies. And we are not talking about the corrupt practices that are widely prevalent.
The PTV MD gets a salary of one million rupees, allowances worth half a million rupees, free car (etc) and a three percent commission from the PTV’s marketing earnings. The monthly package comes to about seven million rupees. And the largest sum of this is paid from the money that every home forcibly pays as PTV surcharge through utility bills. Why? The PTV, unlike the BBC, propagates for the sitting government and not for the state. But then who cares.
It is more royal in provinces where bureaucrats retain the vice-regal perks left by the British. They love to replicate that. The office of the Punjab Chief Secretary, with its high ceiling, teak wood remains as majestic as it was during the time of the Gora Bahadur. Even the mannerism, in which tea is served, the cutlery and crockery bearing the official insignia, is the same. Some bungalows still have their own dhobi-ghaats and servant colonies. The accommodation in district is spread over acres.
A small sample should explain how bad the situation has become. The missing former Punjab Chief Secretary Javed Mahmood was sent on ‘Special Duty’ when he was accused of running over an army colonel. For the 15 months that he lived in that huge mansion at 2-Shannon Road, he kept four drivers, four sanitary workers, six cooks and gardeners. Four luxury cars and seven phone lines remained in his use. The government paid, besides his salary, Rs 3 million only in utility bills. For what, supervising his family agriculture in free time. All of this happening under the ‘clean and strong’ administration of the Khadim-i-aala.
What do they give us in return, one may ask. The military, the media and even our Lordships get their share of criticism. They are the least grilled class as they are the master of suppressing information. Everything shrouds in mystery.
The babus have become so partisan that in most cases one can tell who is with which political party. In some cases, they behave as family servants. The Saeed Mehdis, Ahmad Sadiqs and Javed Mahmoods of this world represent this class of sycophants. The entire structure of the civil bureaucracy is in the pits.
Ask a bureaucrat, he or she will say they went down as the society went down. But then the critics might say that they have a big share in the deterioration that we see around us because the mandarins nurtured on special privileges were supposed to give solutions. Where is the pride in doing a good job, the competence and the integrity? They want the best perks without giving anything in return.
Mojaan hi Mojaan for babus -II
ISLAMABAD: The news about the promotion of 33 officers to Grade 22 recently has largely gone unnoticed. The exclusive Club-22 has reached the strength of nearly 60 officers if one includes the retired oldies hired on contract also. And it may cross the 100 mark if nobody checks them.
In good old times, let’s say before bureaucracy was corrupted and politicized by General Ziaul Haq, less than half of their present strength performed twice as much. When the fossilized Salman Farooqui got his Grade 22, along with two others, it was a lead headline in a national daily: “Three too many.” Why did it go unnoticed this time? May be because politicians are incompetent to control the bureaucrats and are mostly partners in crime in this mutual back-scratching; journalists are indifferent and do not understand its dynamics and gravity; the public does not care two hoots about such complicated issues as it confronts the inflation, gas and electricity loadshedding. And the Miebaaps, as the Gora Sahibs in the Raj were seen as the 'mother-father,' in their greed for self-aggrandizement and the sickening quest for power and perks, have lost the very purpose for which they exist — to serve the public.
But the biggest blame for this goes to the big-wig Lordships. You have to give credit to the genius of our mandarins who used a Supreme Court decision to reverse the very purpose for which it was issued. Remember when 54 officers were given grade 22 in one go. Nargis Sethi, then Principle Secretary to the PM, was accused of orchestrating that just because she wanted herself to be promoted. No way could she have made it to the Club-22 as she was so down the ladder and with little credentials too.
So being the most junior person ever on the most senior and prized job, thanks to Murshad Saeen, she got a whole battalion of mandarins join the Club-22. Incidentally, the biggest chunk of the promoted officers was from her own batch of Seventh Common. This bypassed a whole lot of more senior and competent officers. Naturally, they challenged it in the courts. The Supreme Court in its wisdom ruled that a criterion should be made for a minimum basis for the promotions. Bingo! The beaucrats under the supervision of Ms Sethi made two years of service in grade 21 as the basis of promotion. This of course suited the DMG group now called as Pakistan Administrative Service. This opened the flood gates to expand the Club-22. And all in the name of implementing the SC decision.
Of course, the decision was followed in letter but not in spirit, which was to have a sound mechanism for fair promotions.
From parliamentarians to judges to generals have some collective formula in the shape of constitution, laws and the rules of business or procedures to manage their strength. In the case of the superior bureaucracy, they have become the judge, the jury and the hangman. They write the summaries for their own expansion in slots, divisions and vacancies and always manipulate the approval from the often naive and willing politicians. There is always a Gilani or a Raja — Shaukat Aziz, Jamali, Chaudhary Shujaat before them — who is always keen to oblige the real powerbrokers of this country. Shahbaz Sharif thinks that the bureaucrats are a god’s gift to the earth. He did not let the local bodies held as this would have curtailed their power. The idea is political control and not the welfare of the people. And this is where the DCOs deliver more than the elected lot.
I have seen politicians actually bragging that they obliged so and so with out-of-turn promotions. This is done in the hope that the obliged lot will pay them back at some stage.
But all of this has created a shameful class of bureaucrats. Qudrutullah Shahab and Altaf Gohar, in their own times, became henchmen of a dictator. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Ijlal Haider Zaidi, Roedad Khan and even Salman Farooqui were also tainted in their own ways. But one thing you could not say about them: they were not incompetent. Now we have a class of super bureaucrats who are tainted as well as incompetent. We have in journalism a long list of role models — from Mazhar Ali Khan, Ahmad Ali Khan, H K Burki, Nisar Usmani, Aziz Siddiqui to the living legend I A Rehman. The judiciary has Cornelius, Kayani, Dorab Patel and perhaps Bhagwandas. Politicians have Jinnah, Bhutto and, if I may say, the under-rated Junejo. Among the generals, I respect Kakar for refusing extension. And who are the role models of babus today: Nargis Sethi and Khushnood Lashari, who held the highest posting of the PSPM. May be Kamran Lashari. He is idealized as the success model. Despite having left a trail of corruption cases before the Supreme Court, he gets accepted as an advisor to Shahbaz Sharif.
May I dare say that I have not come across a single role model in bureaucracy who fought against all odds to stand by his or her principles. It is perhaps in the nature of their job to comply and say ‘yes’ to the boss or go home. Yes, a few good men, in relative terms, fought a few small battles. A few faceless bureaucrats, in my humble rating who simply did their job and left home quietly should include Shahzad Hassan Pervaiz, Chaudhary Siddique, Farooq Haroon, Javed Noor, Tariq Khosa and Khawaja Zaheer. There must be many more ‘relative’ role models. This says a lot about the very structure that we rely on.
Mojaan hi Mojaan for babus -I
Pakistan is in turmoil. From politicians to the generals to the common man—everybody is embroiled in chaos up to the neck. But there is one exclusive community that basks in luxury and relishes the best of both worlds — super bureaucrats.
There are almost 50 Grade-22 officers now. This excludes the super-duper Salman Farooqui, who as Secretary General in Grade 22 with the status of a State Minister, holds the golden key to the Presidential treasures. Also excluded are half a dozen Grade-22 officers hired on contract including Special Secretaries to the President Mrs Nasreen Haque, Special Secretary Establishment Division Munir Ahmad and the three secretaries of the Election Commission of Pakistan, the Senate and the National Assembly, not to forget the two retired generals monitoring Defence Division and Production. Wow, quite a figure. Well that’s just half of the story.
Another 170 are waiting in Grade-21, half of them having their two-year waiting requirement fulfilled, are pulling every string to get into the Super Club-22. Where will it lead to? The Club-22 ballooning into a 100 or even more, if we allow them to have their way. Remember the Devolution of power. It was meant to, besides provincial autonomy, cut the size of the government. The idea was not to have duplication of ministries. And here it is - the babus keep coming out with new divisions, autonomous and regulatory bodies, wings, departments — all those fancy words that basically come down to more expansion and more perks.
There are 44 Divisions already besides autonomous and regulatory elephants. Why do we have a Human Rights Division?
Ever heard a Grade-22 officer by the name of Shaigan Shareef Malik raising his voice for the Baloch missing people or standing by the Hindu women abducted in Sindh. All we know is that the government is the biggest violator of human rights.
The government may have abolished its privatization policy but the one-time expanded Privatisation Division stays. Do you know about National Harmony Division? What does Inter Provincial Coordination do? Or the National Food Security and Research Division or the more intriguing National Heritage and Integration Division. Even the CIA could not have coined such dubious names for these outfits. Underneath these fancy names are huge edifices created for our worthy members of the Club-22 to run their small fiefdoms of staff cars, the colonial peons and toilets are clearly marked “For Officer”—tax-payers money be damned. After all, they did not pass that CSS bloody exam 35 years ago to be the ‘public servants,’ goes the saying.
They trick is to keep upgrading these post. The Chairman of the Provincial Planning and Division was a Grade-21 post that got elevated to Grade-22. The same is the case with the Chairman Land Commission and Senior Member of the Punjab Revenue Board. Punjab also has a Grade-22 officer as the Acting Chief Secretary. No wonder Shahbaz Sharif loves these babus so much and holds a contempt for his own political class. His earlier Chief Secretary, Javed Mahmood, who was accused of crushing down a Colonal, the last we heard, was supervising family agriculture in Kasur after taking a long leave. He will still be eligible for all the perks and pension for sure. Club mates take care of each other. In the past, others have worked for Chaudhry Shujaat’s Mill as Manager while keeping their job.
Yet the ground is ripe for making way for more members of the Super Club. About ten vacancies of Grade-22 are still vacant and are being run by acting Heads. This includes the CDA and we all know that the last few heads of this prized outfit have either been pushed out or, such as Kamran Lashari, faces corruption charges before the Courts. By the way, Lashari is now adviser with the Punjab government. Told you Shahbaz Sharif loves them—who cares about the Supreme Court.
Also, the Supreme Court has also ruled that no extensions will be given. Yet the contracts to retired people keep coming. In fact, the two most important Divisions are being run by retired officers on contract. Wajid Rana, who was given a contract in last November, runs the Finance Division. More important, Munir Ahmad has been hired as Special Secretary in Establishment Division for a two year contract. Why? Because he specializes in bending rules and making more room for people like himself. Why should there be a Special Secretary when they already have Taimoor Azmat as the Establishment Secretary. Then why should there be a Special Secretary of Water and Power also?
It’s a total mess. Salman Farooqui refuses to give way at 70 plus whereas hundreds of junior officers in non-DMG grades sulk for years for the promotion board to just sit down.
Nargis sethi has an additional charge while the most senior 22-grader in officialdom, Zafar Mahmood, sits at home for the last four months for a ‘posting'. By the way, it was again His Lordship who caused this anomaly. A recent holy judicial scripture makes it mandatory for the government to give reasons if they send an Officer on ‘Special Duty', the official-speak for the notorious acronym OSD. Trust the bureaucrats to find novel ways of beating the law. They just make them sit at home without salary for months, which is worse than being an OSD. What a send-off for one of their own kind who retires after 35 years of service in April…retirement without salary.
Curtsey:The News Tuesday, 12 February 2013
East Punjab no longer India’s food basket
Amritsar: Pakistan definitely gets mentioned more in Indian elections than India was discussed in our elections last year. More so in the Indian part of Punjab where the two top political families were found competing with each other to prove how much effort they had made to improve relations with Punjabis across the border.
The ruling Badal family that dominates Shiromani Akali Dal was found bragging about their love-at-first-sight with the Sharif family. Remember all those cultural exchanges flaunted by Shahbaz Sharif and the Kabbadi results that became controversial.
Former (east) Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who is addressed more as Maharaja for being the scion of Patiala’s royalty than as a retired Captain of the Indian Army, was not far behind. In Amritsar, I heard him talk about how he lured in Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi on the Indo-Pakistan trade. This was ten years ago when both of them were chief ministers of their respective Punjabs. Seems like a lifetime. The Maharaja got a little carried away when he promised to the local youth that he would make efforts to open up trade with not just Pakistan but also with the Central Asia and the Middle East through Wagah border.
This was sheer bravado - the typical hyperbole that our politicians promise during elections. I found it funny, as there was hardly any development on the bilateral relationship with Pakistan in the last ten years while Amarinder Singh’s Congress was in power in New Delhi.
The only progress that the Congress-led government could achieve was the addition of items that were allowed for trade. One reason for the Indo-Pak stalemate was that Manmohan Singh could not muster enough courage to initiate any aggressive attempt for peace with Pakistan, particularly after the diplomatic withdrawal in Sharamul Sheikh. The first Punjabi Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, could not even visit his birth place in what remains the lost decade as far as the Pakistan-India relations are concerned.
The Badals could be forgiven as, being a state government, they had a limited role to play on trade issues with Pakistan. The early omens from a possible Modi Sarkar do not promise much but who knows what might happen if there is a similar government in Chandigarh and New Delhi.
One could also understand Amarinder Singh’s bravado to woo the Amritsar voters. The fortunes of Amritsar, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur districts that border Pakistan can change drastically if Indo-Pak trade is restored to earlier levels. Pakistan imported 75 per cent of its goods from India and fulfilled 65 per cent of India’s import needs till as late as 1965. The economy of the bordering districts, after the closure of the historical trade route, has taken a sharp plunge.
Amritsar still retains some of its old glory largely because of the tourists who come to pay homage to the Golden Temple. Also, east Punjab fares better because of its fertile lands, subsidised farming and immense foreign remittances, particularly from North America and the Middle East. These factors made east Punjab the granary of India, which boasted per capita twice the size of India’s national average for decades. Things are no longer that rosy in the land of five, actually three, rivers.
East Punjab has slid down from the richest state for decades to a fifth slot, far behind the neighbouring Haryana. Its economic growth rate in the last decade was almost two per cent less than the national average. Its school dropout rate is one of the highest in India. It hardly matches the national average of 17 per cent enrollment in higher education, behind at least half of the Indian states.
So what happened to the great Punjabi work ethics and the dynamism of historical Mhaja and Doaba lands between rivers Ravi and Beas. If you ask ordinary people on the street they will blame it on the ruling party. In east Punjab, the anti-incumbency factor revolves around provincial Akali Dal government more than it is against the Congress. The perception about the Badal government, whether right or wrong, is that it is corrupt and backs construction and drug mafias.
The lifestyle of the political elite is sickeningly extravagant. The Maharaja inherited his palaces and farmhouses in Patiala, Monali and Chandighar but even the Badal village might dwarf the Jati Umra farm of Nawaz Sharif hands down. Badal farm is supposed to have a better standard of living than their five-star hotel in Gurgaon. Journalist Shekhar Gupta likened it to a European enclave with its palm trees, wrought-iron lights and majestic ostriches walking outside bedroom windows.
What ails Punjab? I asked a Sikh who was traveling with me on a bus from Amritsar to Patiala. “Frankly, nobody gives a damn; one half of Punjabis are hooked on opium and smack (synthetic alternative to heroin) and the other half is relishing in its extravagant living,” he said nonchalantly. He believed that the average Punjabi has lost his or her zeal for hard work and honest living. “Drugs, alcohol and easy money have ruined us.”
He showed me palatial houses that dotted the highway throughout our journey. “Nobody likes to live in village community any longer,” he explained that it’s fashionable to have these huge mansions on the farm even if they can’t afford them. It’s mostly to show off their cousins, friends or anybody they can get hold of. Industriousness and productivity has given way to possession of material wealth.
There was a certain ‘chakde-patthay’ syndrome at work here. It was about the boisterous, loud and show-off lifestyle that was displayed all around. I came across hordes after hordes of the young elite visiting local bars late at night in Punjab. We can’t imagine such drunkards escorted by armed private guards and police protection marauding in Pakistan as I saw in most east Punjab cities and towns. Most of them had a reckless attitude for law and nobody could dare touch them.
One also sees the physical manifestation of this show-off attitude all around Punjab. As in Pakistan, highways are crowded by cars bought on cheap loans even when you can’t afford them. You will come across huge villas, palatial wedding houses and grand restaurants dotting the entire highway between Amritsar and New Delhi.
A chain named ‘Haveli’ has mega restaurants whose grand (and cheap) architecture might shame even Dubai Sheikhs. Forget McDonalds and KFCs, you will see franchises of major fashion international brands even in towns like Karnal, Khanna, Sirhind - usually surrounded by massive shanty towns. The services offered are pedicure and massage, usually by opposite genders and the event management of doll weddings, weekend masala (whatever that is) and, my favourite, kitty parties.
Where this no-hold-barred consumerism is headed, one may ask. Definitely not in the right way as far as east Punjab’s economy is concerned even if we ignore its socio-cultural impact. The coffers of the Badal government are empty, as they do not have money to pay salaries on time. The state economy runs a huge deficit.
One feels quite at home seeing the dynastic nature of both major ruling families. The Maharaja fights from Amritsar while his wife Praneet Kaur contests from the family seat in Patiala.
CM Praksh Singh Badal has got his son, daughter-in-law and her brother in politics, not to forget a nephew who is now contesting against the family in, via, Bathinda.
All of this leaves some scope for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It may not win more than one or two seats out of total 13 Punjab Lok Sabha seats but it has already created an impact. The AAP can take the credit that it has made the Punjab contest a three-way battle. This is not a bad beginning for a party that just got started. Hope it fares better than its counterpart in Pakistan
Curtsey:The News: Thursday, May 01, 2014