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All is not well

By Syed Saadat | From the Newspaper Dawn

THOSE readers who have visited the marvellous Mohatta palace in Karachi must have noticed a couple of lion statues sitting there since 1920, the year the palace was built.
Had the palace been a government office, these lions would have made it to the top echelons of bureaucracy. Why? Because the performance evaluation system in vogue is such that you just have to be there and sit idle to rise to the top.
I admit I might have exaggerated the scenario a bit, but only a bit. In Pakistan’s civil service the years of service an individual puts in matter a lot more than the quality of those years.
In a meeting some time ago, the finance minister gave senior officers of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) a piece of his mind regarding their performance. A fly on the wall tells us that he went to the extent of saying that they should leave if they could not meet revenue-collection targets and let someone competent take their place. However, have no doubt that their Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs), previously termed Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs), will give the ‘all is well’ verdict this year, just as in the previous so many years.
An in-depth analysis would conclude that the system of performance evaluation of government officers is flawless but any rule, law or procedure is only as good as it is implemented. The problem lies in the fact that government officers are mostly so jaded that unless or until there are personal scores to settle, superiors just rate everybody as very good in his PER. For them every officer is fit for promotion, thus undermining the very logic behind a performance-appraisal system.
The reasons behind this are multifaceted, including the tendency to want to stay away from controversy and so-called courtesy. The latter is extended at the expense of efficiency or something as trivial as the fact that if you rate an officer as below average or as extraordinary in his performance report, you have to provide a citation as to why you think so. Citations mean extra work, something which most government officers simply hate.
Then there are prejudices, irrespective of what is fair and what is not, CSS officers would side with their tribe, doctors would stand by doctors and so on and so forth. The recent rift between the District Management Group and the officers of the Provincial Civil Service officers and strikes by the doctors in Punjab stem from these complexes. This cadre addiction can go to great levels and a nexus exists among people who have a grip on ways to manipulate government rules and procedures.
Everybody protects their own kind.
However all is not lost. There are slight changes that can be introduced in the system to make it more effective. First and foremost in that list would be making the system more interactive. The so-called ACRs are confidential documents. The officer whose performance is being evaluated is not supposed to have a clue about the content of the review, but the fact of the matter is that almost everybody who is even remotely interested knows what is in the ACR. If you can tip a clerk in the relevant department you can even get a photocopy of the report.
I don’t see a reason behind the confidentiality any longer; modern management concepts call for progressive improvement in employee behaviour and performance through constant feedback. You cannot hit a target if you cannot see it, so if the target is to eliminate shortcomings in an officer, one has to ensure that he knows these. Government organisations with considerable employee strength are usually so well structured that the system of interactive evaluation can be introduced without any burden on existing resources.
Secondly, accountability has to be inculcated in the system, both in letter and spirit. Somebody who is not up to the mark should suffer for incompetence; somebody accused of corruption should be sidelined until proven clean and not decreed clean by something like the NRO. A slack evaluation system has a domino effect; if people committing blunders continue unfettered then the system is bound to rot. Blunders should be reflected in PERs which in their turn should be reflected in the postings of civil servants.
The reality, however, is that connections and loot are the most lethal combination to win lucrative postings in this lovely land of the pure. A lot of examples can be quoted from recent as well as distant history but let’s just leave it there.
For curious readers, I would suggest researching any incident related to law and order, corruption or dereliction of duty this country has been confronted with and you would find that being found guilty aside, the responsible are not even feeling guilty.
The rise of the media has made life for such elements uneasy; but not to worry, we as a nation suffer from amnesia so it’s just a matter of time, usually a fortnight, before all is forgotten. However, if during your research you find an officer in trouble for his deeds, wait a couple of months and you’ll find him singing, “All is well”.

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