Authorities galore

The trend had peaked under the PTI government when it was fashionable to establish authorities

Dr Raashid Wali Janjua May 15, 2024
Authorities galore


Where are we going as a nation setting up layers and layers of new bureaucracy? The government, as per a news report, has been asked by Supreme Court to establish a Climate Change Authority within a fortnight. Why has the Supreme Court taken up a pure governance issue is also worth introspection. The governance issues are best left to the democratic governments accountable to electorate the world over. But since the government delays the capacity building of the institutions needed for vital governance functions, the courts have to step in. At one end the IMF is breathing down our necks to reduce the bloated bureaucracy and cost of government, and at the other end we are blithely going around setting up more bureaucratic structures.

This new layer of bureaucracy comprises a number of ‘Authorities’ that are sprouting like mushrooms after a monsoon shower. The trend had peaked under the PTI government when it was fashionable to establish authorities. Previously there was a joke about the government lassitude, that whenever it did not understand an issue or wanted to delay it for some reason, the standard prescription was to institute a committee. Now the current trend apparently is to constitute an authority for every issue that needs special handling. Has our existing bureaucracy outlived its utility that so many new organisations are being created to replace it?

An ‘Authority’ is a parallel layer of bureaucracy that is ostensibly meant to improve efficiency and bring special expertise to tackle issues, beyond the ken of normal bureaucratic understanding. What is conveniently forgotten however is that the profligate waste of national resources while creating new organisations with their material and human resource cost. For a country operating on shoestring budget and suffocated in the miasma of perennial fiscal deficit, the constitution of new bureaucratic structures act as a veritable ‘Kiss of Death’. A recap of the number of ‘Authorities’ established in the last six years would illustrative and that too during an economic slump when the national economy was gasping for breath.

Why would Pakistan need new bureaucratic structures when the existing ones are famished of resources and requisite quality of human resource? Or is this a frank admission of the fact that the existing bureaucracy is incapable of performing the administrative and financial planning and execution of policy directives? When we have one of the heaviest structures of bureaucracy in the world despite assigning the governance and administrative functions to provinces after 18th amendment, why do we not make optimal use of that structure? The establishment of new ‘Authorities’ essentially mean new buildings to house the human resource and financial outlay to remunerate it along with recurrent maintenance and salary expenses. And that too in many cases for functions that are being performed by existing government ministries at exorbitant cost to taxpayer.

In these economically straitened circumstances, there should be a complete moratorium on establishment of more ‘Authorities’ and addition of more layers of bureaucracy resulting in duplication of tasks. A proper cost audit of new authorities being set up as semi-autonomous or autonomous bodies vis a vis the performance of existing ministries should be done to understand the cost-benefit equation of the governance structures. In Pakistan, we have a Planning, Development & Special Initiatives Ministry that acts as the central coordinating hub of planning and oversight of new initiatives pertinent to different ministries. If the policy planning and execution gaps are being felt in the existing ministries, those should be filled through special ‘Project Planning and Development’ teams comprising the local and international talent in each ministry.

The Planning, Development & Special Initiatives ministry’s role should be central policy guidance and oversight through special teams comprising the best available human resource in the relevant field. Consider, for instance, the current directive of Supreme Court about the establishment of Climate Change Authority (CCA). Originally envisaged as per Climate Change Act 2017 to manage and regulate climate change issues including Climate Change Finance (CCF), the CCA is supposed to act as a regulator as well as executor at federal level, which is a problematic issue since most of the climate action has moved to provinces, being a provincial subject.

Climate mitigation and adaptation planning is a highly specialised job requiring expertise in managing and use of financial flows, insurance matters, project planning and execution. Assigning this task to a new organisation would pose expertise and well as jurisdictional issues with provinces. The oversight of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), climate finance, interaction with Climate Change Council, etc require strengthening of existing Ministries of Climate Change and the Planning, Development & Special Initiatives. The policy planning and climate proofing of all national projects should therefore be under the aegis of Ministry of Planning and Development with the regulatory responsibility assigned to Climate Ministry leaving execution with the provinces.

Requisite capacity building is required all three tiers i.e. federal level (Ministries of Planning, Development & Special Initiative), provincial level (relevant ministries) and local level (through local government channels) to usher in a meaningful change in climate action. The creation of an added layer of bureaucracy in the shape of CCA would complicate the climate change action besides raising the cost of the undertaking. The role of new authorities needs to be reviewed while the existing government structure under relevant ministries needs to be strengthened through better human and material resource without duplicating the effort.

Smart and competent ministries, served with the best human resource instead of added bureaucratic structures in the shape of ‘Authorities’, is the need of the hour.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2024.

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