Governance and meritocracy

Published: January 15, 2020
The writer is a former Home Secretary and a retired IGP. He currently heads a think tank, Good Governance Forum, and can be reached at

The writer is a former Home Secretary and a retired IGP. He currently heads a think tank, Good Governance Forum, and can be reached at

The incumbent government led by the PTI had, in its manifesto, come up with lofty ideals to fight for a just and equitable society based on the system that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) laid down in the Charter of Medina which was the foundation of the model Islamic state.

This was an egalitarian society based on the rule of law and economic justice with a commitment to building a welfare state where the rule of law, meritocracy and transparency were guaranteed to all citizens. With those slogans, the PTI stood for an effective government with merit and responsiveness as the guiding principles.

They also advocated that an ineffective state structure has generated a crisis of governance that has effectively marginalised everyone in the country except the elite. Therefore, they promised to put an end to the corrupt and decaying system to build a new system based on the foundations of justice and equity. The legacy of misrule and misery by the corrupt and inept elite would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

With these catchy slogans, the people voted them into power with the hope that their dreams of a better tomorrow would be realised. In Imran Khan, they saw a Messiah. Of course, the philosophy of the manifesto is always the driving force for reforming the system. This provides a blue print for a better change. Good governance in this context is the main feature of any given government. The efficacy of a government depends on a well-functioning bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the steel frame of a government.

The weakening of this frame makes the whole structure of the governance weak; and if the rotting persists, the whole superstructure is likely to fall. Our present system of administration is mainly built around Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy, which relies on mission, equality, formal rules and norms, formal hierarchy, specialisation, recruitment based on abilities and systematic filing.

In this context, Rick W Griffin says, “Bureaucracy is a model based on a legitimate and formal system of authority.” This postulates that the incompetent will not fill the position but rather the most competent and skilful would be placed at the required position. To this may be added impeccable integrity as a person with a dubious character would erode all other virtues of the bureaucracy.

Merit tempered with seniority provides the lubricant to the administrative machinery. The other basic feature of merit-based bureaucracy is its impersonal role. This implies that civil servants are required to act without personal likes and dislikes. A civil servant will never carry a team of subordinates on his or her transfer from one post to another.

Of late, however, the civil servants working at the policy level have adopted the attitude of kingmakers and promote and patronise their own cronies and bunch of buddies. This pattern can be seen right from their journey from the bottom to the top. With proclamation of lofty ideals, people in general expected a departure from the past wherein Fawad Hasan Fawad was blamed for cherrypicking whimsically. Alas! The same practice is still in vogue. It is a cardinal principle of public administration that where qualifications in the hierarchy are the same, the senior must be given a chance for promotion and posting on a position.

But to add insult to injury, those sitting at the helm of affairs, ignoring the seniors in all cadres, have starting posting junior-most officers in positions of importance so they could be under their thumb. This situation has not only created heartburn and despondency but also a culture of flattery and sifarish never seen before. Adherence to rules, policy and set conventions is the hallmark of the rule of law but all those have been thrown to the wind.

Not only Civil Service Rules but also the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Anita Turab Case has underscored observing the tenure fixed for an office. Ministers without any remorse, with tongues in cheeks, have been heard defending quick transfers and postings as their prerogatives. They lack the basic understanding that even royal prerogatives in the UK are not being used whimsically.

As a corollary to this, the discretionary powers have to be exercised judiciously and not arbitrarily. In a parliamentary form of government, the minister standing before the house takes credit or discredit for his or her ministry and does not pass the buck to the civil servant if something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, deviating from the glorious conventions, the ministers in order to hide their own incompetence find it convenient to change the civil servants. That is why we observed the postings of federal secretaries, chief secretaries, provincial secretaries and IGPs in quick succession. They are caught in a merry-go-round situation and are unable to take off.

No coherence in policy is being observed due to the absence of sustainable postings. Growth and progress of a country is also linked with encouragement of specialisation by organising departments and units based on their functions led by experts and specialists, such as scientists, economists, educationists, engineers, forensic experts, prisons and prosecution.

But opportunities for growth for such talent are retarded by allocating senior vacancies to the cadres of the Pakistan Administrative Service and Provincial Management Service. Good governance requires efficient, effective and robust administrative machinery with a blend of civil servants and specialists based on merit. Sustainable tenure and merit tempered with seniority is a must for running the vehicle of effective governance.

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