Pakistan has one of the most ineffective and corrupt bureaucracies in the world. It doesn’t produce anything, other than lots of paper work, seldom carries out effective regulatory functions and is reactive (a characteristic of our overall political system). Be it law enforcement, tax collection, the provision of social services or utilities, today our bureaucracy is the biggest impediment in the way of our national development.

The public sector is plagued with corruption, absenteeism and red tapeism. Most of the procedures and rules of business are archaic, records are still manual and great emphasis is placed on procedures and methods rather than on delivery with limited and no accountability. These structural problems have rendered the state paralytic; unable to respond to present and future challenges.

Pakistan is a country where absolutely anything can be accomplished, or absolutely nothing can be done, depending upon the association and status of the concerned person. The entire state machinery is ensnared by red tape, only to be lubricated by bribery, which has become so endemic and legitimized, that public servants consider it an entitlement. Corruption will open every opportune door.

In contrast, let us witness how the private sector is shaping our lives. Before the privatization of PTCL, it required enormous effort to get a phone connection, which is now only a telephone call away. Similarly, the privatization of the financial sector has revolutionized banking in Pakistan, spreading ATM machines nationwide, making money transfers and other financial services easier and cheaper. The private sector’s involvement in broadcasting has increased information flow to the public. News which might take hours to reach the audience, now takes a few minutes before screens are flashing with news alerts. While the officials of agricultural departments procrastinate at their offices, the field officers of Agro firms are reaching farmers far and wide, offering advice and solutions.

What makes the private sector excel is its primary focus on performance. Private firms, competing in a market, are structured to achieve organizational goals with the least use of resources. This is attained by offering performance based incentives. Those who perform get promotions and increments, while the rest stay where they are or are gradually replaced.

On the other hand, our public sector is not structured to deliver or redress. Whether a bureaucrat achieves departmental targets or not, what is expected of him is to just follow the rules, without shaking the system. Rules and regulations are important but what’s the use of all the red tape, if it renders the whole game ineffective?

For bureaucrats, there is little effective accountability or differentiation on the basis of performance. Everyone gets a similar performance evaluation, and in nearly every budget, all public sector officials get a raise, and after specific periods of service, a whole batch gets promoted. Officials who manage to get out of turn promotions or obtain good postings, are those who dance to the tune of the rulers.

As long as the public sector is not reformed thoroughly, we will find it difficult to achieve sustainable growth. Every department should be assigned policy goals and departmental staff should be evaluated against those targets. Incentives should be offered on the basis of performance. For instance, since FBR came into existence, nearly every year it fails on its tax collection targets, but its officials still get promoted, their incentive packages and privileges still remain the same. Similarly, police officials are seldom held responsible for the increasing crime rate.

No nation can succeed without sound policies determining the course of national growth. And no policy can work unless it is translated into action by a competent and honest bureaucracy. Canadian educationist Laurence J. Peter said, “The bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.” Unfortunately, our public sector is still defending the status quo left by the British Raj, embodied not only in our public edifices, but in our laws and in our mindsets. Unless we change that, absolutely nothing can truly change.

 The writer is a freelance columnist and has worked as a broadcast journalist.