Paranoia has its consequences. Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif’s refusal to trust civil servants beyond a core of a few favourites has resulted in a condition of organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis within the provincial government and even resulted in losses worth billions of rupees to the exchequer. “Sharif is a classic case of democratic autocracy,” said Rai Manzoor Nasir, the president of the Punjab Civil Service Officers Association, a union of government officials in the province.
Nasir alleges that the provincial government is run by no more than 12 officers whom the CM trusts, with the rest being transferred at whim, often without being given any reason. According to official data examined by The Express Tribune, every departmental head in the province has been transferred, on average, four or five times over the past three years .
Punjab civil servants say that the government’s rules state that each departmental head must serve at least three years in one position, a rule that does not seem to be applied by the Sharif administration. According to sources familiar with the matter, the Punjab government transfers an average of 12 senior officials every day.“I always keep at least one bag packed at all times because I never know when I will be transferred,” said one assistant commissioner who wished to remain anonymous.
Yet the constant transfers do far more than just create inconveniences for bureaucrats. It raises the cost of running the Punjab government and frequently results in policies being haphazardly applied, which ends up resulting in incomplete development projects and excess expenses that would have been avoided had the government allowed civil servants more time in one position.
For instance, by transferring officials at the frequency that it does, the Punjab government is forced to pay travel and daily allowances to officials (to which they are entitled under both federal and provincial law). This raises the cost of salaries for the government.In addition, the lack of stable leadership in government departments results in policies being applied inconsistently, which ends up costing the government more money.
For example, six months ago, the excise and taxation department confiscated about 350 vehicles from local governments across the province and auctioned them. Within two months, the department purchased 350 vehicles for its own use at a cost greater than that which it received for auctioning the local governments’ vehicles.
In another case, the Punjab government was unable to complete the Lahore to Sialkot motorway because of the government’s inability to effectively monitor costs. The project had initially been budgeted to cost Rs23 billion, but was put on hold indefinitely after the cost doubled to Rs46 billion.
Meanwhile, many senior officers are bristling at the notion that they are being forced to report to officers several years and ranks their junior. According to some officials, the government’s decision to violate rules regarding promotions and posts has caused morale to plummet within the civil service.
Other provinces are also being affected by the CM’s attitude towards governance.
The Punjab government currently has 300 federal district management group officers – the elite within the elite federal civil service – but does not need all of them. Yet it refuses to allow any of them to serve in Balochistan, which only has 19. Quetta is so desperate for DMG officers it is willing to pay double salaries for their services, but Punjab, under Sharif, refuses to let them go.
“The chief minister finds it difficult to work with officers who worked under a dictator [former president Pervez Musharraf],” said Senator Pervaiz Rashid, the Punjab government spokesperson.
The Punjab cabinet consists of 9 ministers who collectively manage 43 departments. Many provincial ministers hold up to five portfolios. The CM himself holds 14.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2011.