Like all other colonial powers, the British also introduced extractive and exploitative institutions in the Subcontinent but in a very organised and systematic manner, unlike their European counterparts. Civil bureaucracy ranks top amongst these very structures carved out to amass wealth and, at the same time, to foster loyalty for the Crown in every nook and corner. Lloyd George, the then prime minister of UK, called it the iron cage of the fabric of colonial rule. Given its extreme discretionary powers, no wonder it is still cherished, relished, praised and strengthened; stalling all the efforts to instil modernity and improvement, both within and without, leveraging all available resources. The protagonists are no other than the beneficiaries themselves who seem to be active again to save their Encomienda in the current muddle regarding public owned companies, all in the name of public interest.

In the recent past, different regimes have introduced and experimented numerous institutional and organisational arrangements in the public sector to improve performance and to provide better services to the people. Various functions were taken out of the ambit of traditional departments, that are an epitome of colonial power, and have been assigned to more autonomous entities like companies, authorities, or simple project management units. These entities exhibited more professionalism, responsibility, and capacity to tackle the intricate issues of public administration and public service delivery. The betterment of the primary health care system in Punjab owes much to the PRSP model and Health Sector Reforms Programme. Similarly, there is a lot of improvement in gross enrolment ratio and gender parity in primary and secondary education due to Education Sector Reforms Programme. There are many islands of excellence that can be exemplified for their contribution in public realm. The Urban Sector Planning and Management Services Unit has successfully computerised the urban immoveable property tax and Pakistan Railways land records that are comparable to any of the world’s best systems. Punjab Safe Cities Authority has done remarkable work in a very less time frame. In short, it can be safely described that almost all the success stories of the government, though very rare, can be attributed to such new public management initiatives despite financial bottlenecks, lack of independence, departmental conspiracies, and the lack of public appetite. The point is that the rules of the game have changed the world over and the old Weberian and Macaulay’s doctrines are stories of the past, and specialised state functions are performed by specialised bodies having modern knowledge and skills embedded in New Public Management (NPM) concepts and principles. NPM based organisations have successfully taken over large and elephants organisations and introduced lean and matrix structures that have capacity to deliver more aptly, quickly, and orderly. Professionalism, responsibility and accountability are systematically imbued in the system.

The recent upheaval against public owned companies in media has somehow cast doubts over the efficacy of agencies that reflect NPM concepts. It is generally perceived that this institutional transition, towards creating new organisations, needs to be reconsidered. Specially some of the bureaucratic circles have come to the forefront to save Lloyd George’s steel frame of the fabric, and have initiated the process of departmental oversights, inquiries committees, audits, etc. of these newly evolved entities. There is no question of not holding accountability for each and every penny spent from the public exchequer. Nevertheless, the mechanism needs to be evolved within the NPM framework rather than enbloc flogging of all these organisations after rebelling them with charges of incompetence and corruption. The problem is not the companies per say, the real issue is that the principles of corporate governance were not adopted in their entirety while establishing them - mainly due to self-aggrandising of political and bureaucratic elite. For instance, the members of the Board of Directors of many companies were not appointed by the government on the basis of professional competence but based on personal loyalties. The top management of public sector companies are appointed based on their allegiance with the heads. These entities are then not provided with the required independence, and are expected to deliver within impractical time frames. Some corporate entities are created just to avoid routine procedure to server political interests. In these circumstance, one cannot blame the idea of corporate governance or having modern organisations, which are based on principles of NPM.

On the other hand, there cannot be two opinions about the failure of the humdrum government structures i.e. the departments and their field formations in terms of provision of services to the poor masses. The splendour with which the office of the Deputy Commissioner was resurrected by the same ilk now keen to control the public sector companies, is now shrouded in the mist of inefficiency and inability. Has there ever been an effort to evaluate the performance of the office of the deputy commissioner or the commissioner in terms of their contribution towards the society in comparison to the city or regional managers world over? Is there any attempt to measure the performance of Board of Revenue where one finds hundreds of people lurking around for years to settle their claims? What would one say about the Higher Education Department about is envisaged role of leading and guiding a young national for choosing their future in the changing circumstances and globalisation? These colonial Goliath’s are all around us.

Governance is a serious and solemn business and should be taken like that. The transition from old institutions to modern ones is never an easy task. It is always fraught with conflicts between the modern forces and the old ones. The role of the thought leaders and political elite is to manage these conflicts in a very careful manner. We all are still facing the brunt of the decisions taken one hundred and fifty years back by the colonial rulers, referred to as Macaulayism. The same may not dictate the terms now. We need more friendly, indigenous, robust and specialised organisations to achieve economic and social progress in the province. Our renewed commitment to colonial, hierarchical, rule bound bureaucratic institutions need to be revisited and give way to more modern and specialised agencies with built-in mechanisms of accountability. These entities should be given more room to work and more space to flourish in public interest. The ideas like administrative oversight of traditional departments over these public sector corporate entities is like asking the blind to lead the way and would defeat the entire purpose of having specialised corporate entities.

 

n            The writer is an institutional development specialist.