The slow death of ‘service’

  • Rauf Klasra
  • Nov 16, 2023

Lahore High Court’s comments on the bureaucracy’s lack of seriousness in addressing the smog issue surprised no one. The words spoken about the Deputy Commissioners of several districts and the Commissioner of Lahore should concern any officer. But will these officers be affected? In my opinion, they will not.

The times when an officer would hide from his ‘batch-mates’ for days after a news story broke about them are long gone. Officers would demand explanations from their subordinates, talk to the reporter, show a semblance of anger, and then move to getting a clarification published.

Gone are the days when news about corruption and incompetence aired on TV would cause earthquakes. With more TV channels emerging and the rise in such stories, the scales tipped in a way that no one considered them scandalous anymore. It is almost as if the practices have become normalised.

Up until General Musharraf’s era, news published in newspapers still had an impact. Ministers were scared. Governments were afraid. But his creation of NAB provided politicians and officers with a new opportunity: if caught in a corruption case involving a billion rupees, they could simply pay a few million rupees and go home, trying not to get caught next time. The plea bargain culture destroyed everything.

Since no one was punished or had their property confiscated, the public and media were given the message that all this was legal and justified. Thus, the accused got clean chits and were acquitted, and society gradually accepted the fact that corruption and corrupt individuals are necessary for us. Musharraf completed the circle when he included all the politicians accused by NAB in his government.

Aftab Sherpao fled Pakistan after NAB opened a case against him. The notorious Broadsheet firm found his bank account in New Jersey containing dollars brought from Pakistan. Broadsheet wrote several letters to NAB asking them to authorize the freezing of Sherpao’s account to return the millions of dollars to Pakistan.

NAB did not pay heed. Sherpao withdrew the money. A relative of his, who was a Federal Secretary and close to General Musharraf, arranged a deal for him, and brought him back. He got elected as an MNA and later, the country’s Interior Minister.

Imagine the scenario where the Ministry of Interior and FIA, who had issued warrants against Sherpao, were now saluting their own suspect. Similarly, Benazir Bhutto, Zardari, and MQM received the NRO from General Musharraf, resulting in the dropping of money laundering cases worth $60 million against Zardari, as well as the release of thousands of MQM suspects in Karachi.

The phenomenon is not limited to one party. Musharraf kept handing out clean chits to everyone but those who refused ‘deals’. People like Yousuf Raza Gilani and Javed Hashmi remained in jails and remained loyal to their parties.

Leaders of political parties follow dual standards. Nawaz Sharif himself made a deal and left for Jeddah but was annoyed with his party members for meeting Musharraf. It was okay if a deal was cut for him but objectionable if someone else from the party followed suit.

Javed Hashmi, jailed for being a leader in Nawaz Sharif’s party, was humiliated within the party by younger relatives so that he would leave the party. What reward did he receive for his loyalty? Notwithstanding Hashmi’s later decisions made in haste.

But Javed Hashmi too had his own style and approach. He rejoined the PML-N too late compared to joining PTI too quickly.

Coming back to where we started, politicians or bureaucrats are no longer affected by news or court remarks. At this moment, all municipal institutions in the cities are under DMG officers. Go to any city and see the state of filth that the citizens have to deal with, and then compare it to the areas where these officers lead a certain lifestyle – giving away shiny new cars to the tehsildars only to get brand new ones for themselves at the taxpayer’s expense.

They now think that by clearing an exam that requires a bachelor’s degree, they are above those whose hard-earned money makes up their pay. The duty is no longer a public service. Loot and plunder through the loopholes in the system is now considered a right. ‘Service’ no longer means improving the lives of ordinary people but changing one’s own fortunes. Therefore, you now see that our bureaucrats have obtained citizenships abroad. They earn here but spend abroad. Even their children are settled abroad.

Although not all officers are like this, there are good ones too. But the work of these good people is overshadowed by the incompetence of their colleagues – who might even at times be making fun of their honesty.

The incompetence displayed in the smog issue does not surprise me.

 Only a few deputy commissioners, commissioners, or officers consider duty as a part of their faith or justify their salaries. Most of their time is spent securing good postings and promotions. The concept of public service, if it ever existed in their minds, has long disappeared.

There may be some bias in my words, but I cannot help it. A senior bureaucrat who just retired recently told me that the class that used to work is all gone. If the current set of officers were to get to actual work, issues like smog wouldn’t become recurrent, courts wouldn’t need to send people packing, and we would be living in a much cleaner and safer Pakistan.

It seems like the current cadre lives by our Saraiki saying: “kamm jawan di maut ayy” – Work is the death of a young man.”

Klasra White

Rauf Klasra

The author is a senior Pakistani journalist and anchor. He posts on X as @KlasraRauf

You May Also Like