Why are appointments in Pakistan so badly made?

Published: December 12, 2013
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The writer served as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission from 2010 to 2013

The writer served as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission from 2010 to 2013

People are totally confused about the economy. One way of looking at the economy is that it is the aggregate of all economic decisions taken during a certain time period. If the government is run on archaic principles with poor decision-making, don’t expect great outcomes for the economy. The process of human resource management in the government is at the heart of the slow growth in our economy.

All appointments in Pakistan’s public sector are highly centralised. The refrain is that we cannot trust appointments to be decentralised as this may result in poor quality appointments and possible corruption. Meanwhile, the principle accounting officer of all governing bodies of public sector enterprises remains the secretary, who meddles in and vitiates the authority of the board and the chief executive. The result is that we have a system of diffused responsibilities and as a result, no clear goals or business plans emerge in any organisation.

Why, then, do we cling to this system when its results have been atrocious? Public sector enterprises have been badly managed and are bleeding at over Rs500 billion annually. Educational institutions continue to be poorly managed and most government non-profit organisations, as well as regulatory agencies, are treated as parking lots for retired bureaucrats. All board and senior appointments everywhere are made directly by the prime minister (PM). Positions lie vacant for months, even years. Files are sent to the PM’s office, where they wait for months.

Then there is the fiction of advertising and interviewing candidates for all positions. Who conducts these interviews? The secretaries. It is not surprising that these advertisements produce no serious appointments. Serious professionals do not want to be treated poorly; to be subjected to an interview by non-professionals, to wait to hear from the PM’s office for months and then learn that some retired bureaucrat was preferred for the job. And if you do get the appointment, you will never have any independence, since the secretary and all manner of people will interfere in your work. And, of course, the PM has arbitrary authority to fire you at will.

The fiction in all countries is that we serve at the whims of the chief executive. But in reality that is not true. President Obama cannot fire people at will or transfer them from Utah to Nebraska on whim. Recall when his administration was being set up, there was a panel of staffers who were ‘recommending’ serious candidates and if commentators are to be believed, Obama had a limited say in the process.

There are some appointments the chief executive does not even get into. Prime among these are vice-chancellors and professors who are appointed through systems in academia without involving the government or its functionaries. Public service entities should be run like any other company by their boards and held accountable to their bottom line.

It is time that the human resource management (HRM) of government jobs was taken seriously. The fiction of the PM making all appointments may be preserved, but the PM must not get involved in anything beyond choosing his ministers. The rest of the system has to be developed such that serious professionals can be brought in and not be totally subservient to secretaries. Indeed, the secretaries’ grip over the system needs to be loosened.

Better HRM is the key to development and we must learn that. The US has led the world by developing an HRM system that attracts the best talent from all over. It is ready to pass a new immigration bill primarily for this purpose. Our archaic system must change!

Can we expect good outcomes from a system that is so poorly managed?

Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Qudsia
    Dec 12, 2013 - 11:54PM

    Sir, can you please describe how you were selected and appointed first to PIDE and then to Planning Commission? Is that the process that should be used?

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  • Dec 13, 2013 - 12:08AM

    The definition of these confused appointments is called cronyism.
    Nepotism, corruptionism, briberism and plain thuggism.

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  • Raja
    Dec 13, 2013 - 12:42AM

    Well Mr. Haque, its one thing to make tall statements on how to fix things and another on actually delivering. Unfortunately, during your tenure of 3 years as DC Planning Commission (PC), no major reforms were undertaken in the public sector. To your credit, you did voice the need for civil service reforms on occasions, but nothing emerged beyond mere rhetoric. The economy nose-dived and PSDP projects were in poor shape during your tenure as DC-PC, and CWDP meetings faced continuous delays, often for several months. At least the present Chairman / Minister holds a CDWP meeting every month on average to fast-track development projects. Also your negotiations cost us much-needed multilateral funding for strategic dams and water reservoirs.

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  • usman
    Dec 13, 2013 - 1:24AM

    i could not agree more.

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  • Dec 13, 2013 - 2:33AM

    For bribe, bribe and bribe. Bad appointment is made for bribe.

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  • Aman
    Dec 13, 2013 - 4:38AM

    I am waiting for Nadeemul Haque’s response to Qudsia’s question on his PIDE appointment.

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  • Hasan Hasni
    Dec 13, 2013 - 9:06AM

    Why we make hopes from people. We will always be disappointed when we assume people will deliver expectation of masses. This will never happen unless we do correct ourselves first. How small or big we are in our society uses our power without fearing from almighty. This applies to all of us no exclusion including Taliban or non Taliban. We are required to remove this filthy habit from our selves. Otherwise, we will remain the same grubby people.
    Religious scholars twist the teaching to control masses.
    Bureaucrats misuse authority and show power when they are required to do the simple duty.
    Politician will not hesitate to break any law.
    All of us, do all of the above and show bogus power through our connections with the above.
    I believe (God forbid) that we will use our connections in front of almighty that’s why we don’t have fear.
    Let’s pray that we start fearing from all of our wrongs and beyond doubt believe that will be accountable and punish by almighty. This shall start from our home first.

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  • Niki
    Dec 13, 2013 - 9:14AM

    I am wondering that why author has mentioned USA— system of hire and fire.They have very strong systme of ‘checks and balances’.
    In Pakistan,everything can be done. Sir, CJ can be removed, PM can be fired, and secretrey can be demote.
    Low profile man can be PM-CE.MD.Minister.Please just write about Pakistan that how mess is created by an individual and few person when they are in POWER.

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  • Fuad
    Dec 13, 2013 - 10:25AM

    All reader comments are SPOT ON!!!!!

    Its just a case of sour grapes…At the end of his tenure, after his failure to improve pC, the ex-chairman has been advocating to disband the Planning Commission.

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  • karam elahi janjua
    Dec 13, 2013 - 4:47PM

    @Aman:
    Me too. Also, why was he sitting on the files for appointing PIDE VC when his turn came as Chair of search committee.

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  • Khudday Line
    Dec 13, 2013 - 5:13PM

    Haque did not run the PC as it was required, but at least he was better than AI who has ruined the role of CDWP. Calling the meetings of CDWP on 48 hours notice is ridiculous as well as unfruitful. One of the examples is Kachhi Canal project, despite lots of discrepancies, the project has been got cleared from CDWP on political motivation.

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