After over seven decades of its existence, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan continues to suffer from the menace of senseless action or sinful inaction. In the early sixties, the Cornelius Commission was the first major effort to introduce administrative reforms to create a balance between action and bureaucratic inaction. Public hearings were held at the YMCA Hall on Mall Road. Before the findings could be approved and implemented, the two members of the bureaucracy leaked out the recommendations to build resistance.

It proved to be a battle for turf for the three colonial institutions (military, bureaucracy, judiciary). Justice A.R. Cornelius was uniquely qualified to reform the system left behind by the colonial masters. He had moved from the ranks of bureaucracy to become a judge of the superior judiciary. Bureaucrats were divided against the martial law which was pushing for senseless, ill-planned action; there were divisions in the ranks of the judiciary as well. While Chief Justice Muhammad Munir legalised the takeover, Justice Cornelius wrote a dissenting note. As a disciplined force, the military stood behind their chief.

The colonial institutions that we inherited in August 1947 were not designed to serve. Most of them worked efficiently to deliver on the agenda of their foreign masters. As a Muslim League child, we were taught that they were ‘farangis’ (foreigners) we should neither follow their way of life or language. Till the sixties there were major efforts to promote ‘Urdu’ as the national language. At home, we were discouraged to speak English. The elected representatives of the people were always disliked by the colonial leftovers.

Bureaucracy was the first institution to cross the line. First it was Ghulam Muhammad and then Iskander Mirza with the tacit support of Ayub Khan. After pushing them out, foundations were laid for the ‘Ayubi Dynasty’ of Haripur. Through his EBDO (Elected Bodies Disqualification Ordinance) he eliminated the entire political leadership of the country.

Not knowing the bureaucratic norms or show-stoppers, they pushed for senseless action which resulted in the collapse of civilian institutions. The already sluggish entities became non-functional, resulting in a total lack of performance. Finally, the bubble burst, the heir could not ascend to the throne in Islamabad. The elected government that followed in the seventies brought back the people into the corridors of power. It was called ‘Awami Hukumat’ (the people’s government). With his immaculate, hands-on filework, Bhutto kept the files moving. Bureaucrats could not hide behind the papers, they were pushed to perform or perish.

Civilian supremacy was short-lived in the seventies (1971 to 1977). By 1985, most democratic gains were neutralised by the third dictator. The slide has continued unabated. The normal mode of work is non-existent in most government departments. Nothing moves; letters, reminders, personal requests are all ineffective.

As a student of management, I fail to understand the seriousness of a public servant who does not show up for work on time. By their very nature, bureaucrats have to be pushed to deliver, they do have the necessary skills which are seldom used for public good. There is a strange concept of protecting ‘state interests’. A setup that cannot serve the masses has no right to exist. During the police strike of the seventies, the crime rate went down, indicating that they were part of the problem not its solution; the same holds true for most other departments.

For a normal mode of work, files have to be kept moving. No one should be allowed to sit on them or push them through without due deliberation. Shehbaz Sharif as Chief Minister was known for his sinful adhocism, but he was able to cover his tracks by completing the necessary paperwork with the help of compliant civil servants. No one had the courage to dissent, it was considered an obstacle in the flow of work. There were glaring examples of senseless action like the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant, Nandipur Power Plant, Orange Train etc. In the words of Farooq Leghari, the Sharifs are very effective in driving projects which come with kickbacks.

Standard operating procedures, together with effective monitoring can help as was practised in the seventies. Ordinary people were able to get passports and identity cards without hassle. As Governor, Khar kept the doors of his mansion open. Public welfare legislation was carried out either through ordinances or bills. The elected representatives of the people were in the driver’s seat to deliver change. As a nation, we have suffered enough senseless adhocism or sinful inaction, both equally detrimental. Timely decisions based on data evaluation and rational procedural frameworks is the only way forward.