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Mid-level crisis

ALL those who have visited a government office must have come across the famous pronouncement of the Quaid regarding the ideal role of the bureaucracy. Prominently displayed, his vision of a politically neutral and non-partisan civil servant is something that needs to be revalidated in the face of the changed societal milieu of modern Pakistan.

Ambivalent borders between the pursuit of a legitimate political agenda and the display of unflinching political loyalty are already exacting a heavy toll on many a conscientious mandarin. Clarity on this score is therefore highly desirable for the mutual benefit of and smooth interaction between politicians and bureaucrats.

To be fair, debate in this regard is nearly settled for lower-grade as well as senior-level functionaries for surprisingly identical reasons. For junior-level functionaries such as the patwari, thanedar and school teacher, it is an issue of survival as they have to secure their existence by keeping the local politicians in good humour. Mutually advantageous interaction, spread over years, favours the localised priorities of both parties.

Similarly, selection of senior-level positions depends on the political leadership`s degree of comfort with the civil servant in question.

However, the true challenge lies for midcareer civil servants, who represent the operational level in policy implementation.

It is this level which is typically imbued with the values propounded by the Quaid and invariably ends up being perceived as a stumbling block rather than as a facilitator.

The inability of mid-level public functionaries to appreciate the political dimensions of governance initiatives is understandable. Unlike functionaries at the grassroot or senior level, these poor souls are deprived of the immediate company of the political leadership. This leads to aloofness between the two at a personal level and also creates genuine difficulties for functionaries in understanding political priorities.

Although the transmission of a political agenda to the mid-career bureaucrat from both the lower and the top level is generally a continuous process, the ability to appreciate and follow the agenda is usually highly constrained.

In this regard, the introduction of LGO 2001 deserved to be appreciated. It was a genuine effort to define the contours of interaction between the politicians and bureaucrats. The dispensation unfurled through this law clearly defined the ascendancy of politicians through the offices of zila and tehsil nazim. LGO 2001 strengthened the vision-setting and agenda-fixing role of locally elected politicians vis-à-vis district officials who were assigned a defini-tive managerial role. The latter were thus required to pursue governance priorities as enunciated by the political heads of district and tehsil governments.

For obvious reasons, civil servants were not too happy with this situation which altered the relationship between the district administration and local politicians. LGO 2001 was nevertheless a major advancement in redefining the perceptions held by mid-career civil servants of ascendancy of the political leadership and its governance agenda.

The situation is all set to become more complex with the steady advancement of the national political scenario towards a twoor three-party political system.

Working to implementation the governance agenda of a specific political party, the civil servant is destined to be seen as wearing party colours. The other option for an ordinary civil servant is to seek unimportant assignments and be consequently rendered inconsequential. For obvious reasons, few career civil servants would be delighted with prospects that could render their service career meaningless and devoid of key appointments.

Both the political leadership and civil servants must work towards avoiding this. The former must realise that the fact that a civil servant has worked under one political dispensation should not be seen as an automatic disqualifier for working under another. Decisions need to be made on the basis of the managerial abilities of an official rather than his having worked under a certain political government.

On the other hand, civil servants must appreciate the clear demarcation between managerial zeal and political ambition as they perform their mandated responsibilities. However, their efforts to achieve set targets should not be dampened by the likelihood of being dubbed as a pursuer of political ambition.

On their part, the manifesto and agenda of political parties ought to be implemented by segregating the purely political aspects from governance and service delivery improvements. It may not appear easy given the recent ascendancy of `technocrat` cadres who actually thrive on eliminating borders between politics and governance.

In fact, many so-called think tanks and technocrats seem to have taken over the task of civil servants.

A civil servant, as per with the Quaid`s vision, needs to meticulously guard against the temptation of ending up a technocrat instead of being a neutral bureaucrat. • The writer is a public policy expert.


Syed Rizwan Mahboob, "Mid-level crisis," Dawn. 2014-01-26.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political leaders , Bureaucrats , Bureaucracy , Politicians , Leadership , Pakistan , LGO