Pakistan's civil bureaucracy needs an overhaul

Pakistan's civil bureaucracy needs an overhaul

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Since the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) has been enacted, it is being criticized for encroaching on civilian space and offering opportunities only to GCC states. While sensing the gravity of the abrupt criticism against SIFC, particularly the question of trespassing into civilian domains, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was quite blunt earlier this month during his farewell address to federal secretaries. He informed federal secretaries that Gulf countries complained to him about the snail-like pace of administrative work causing the non-realization of some grants Pakistan got from Gulf states years ago. Those grants are still hidden under the dust of bureaucratic paperwork, he said.

Not only this, Sharif on the same day took to social media platform X (previously Twitter), stating: “I was categorical in my view (during the meeting) that the present structure of civil services is unable to cope with the challenge of 21st century governance. We may have individual brilliance in abundance but this has not translated into institutional performance.” His message was loud and clear: The country cannot keep running in the way it has been run by the civil administration. 

Pakistan conventionally links its future with GCC states because they have always stood with Pakistan. Furthermore, Pakistan’s proximity and demand for biofuels has resulted in heavy trade dependency on GCC states but now that the trade balance is not in Pakistan’s favour, the situation cannot be neglected. Since Pakistan is not getting reliable biofuel supplies except from GCC states, it has to work for balancing a huge trade deficit.

According to data available at the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) for the year 2021, Pakistan’s exports to Saudi Arabia were $472 million while Saudi Arabia's exports to Pakistan was $3.4 billion, showing a $3 billion trade deficit. UAE exported goods worth $7.13 billion to Pakistan, while the latter’s exports were worth $1.28 billion with an export deficit of around $7 billion. Qatar exported $4.8 billion in goods to Pakistan and Pakistan exported $431 million worth-- again, an over $3.5 billion deficit.

It is easy to criticize makeshift arrangements in administrative capability but for a country on the verge of bankruptcy and default, the only actionable focal point is to survive.

Shazia Anwer Cheema

With virtually no time to revamp its trade sector, Pakistan is offering economic opportunities to countries from where it is importing heavily and this is the appropriate way to minimize its trade deficit with them.

This is one of the reasons Pakistan focuses on Gulf countries through SIFC arrangements. Waking from an age old slumber, Pakistan now realizes its vulnerable position and needs to enhance its productivity sector so it has opportunities to offer the region. The productivity of any country depends upon its administrational structure and with no strong local government structure, Pakistan is heavily dependent upon its federal civilian bureaucracy that also manages its provinces. The vacuum created by the shortcomings of the country’s civil administration is now being filled by its military administration in the fields of trade, commerce and investments because the economy cannot afford further experimentation.

Pakistan needs hard cash and instant investments and both require it to mitigate a trust deficit among investors and an overhauling of the system. It is quite easy to criticize makeshift arrangements in administrative capability but for a country on the verge of bankruptcy and default, the only actionable focal point is to survive, and while doing that, to revive the economy. 

The civil bureaucracy, supposedly an operational component, has instead proven itself time and again, to be a rusty, faulty machine with multiple operational hazards. It needs a complete overhaul instead of taking stop-gap measures. The SIFC can manage the earning side of Pakistan, but if the same administrative bureaucratic structure stays intact, the pilferage of earnings through heavy expenditures will continue. If all other departments remain under the same old structure that has failed to work, then nothing really changes.

The choice to overhaul the entire system lies with the next elected government. They must either reshape the civil administration for the smooth running of the country, or keep inviting non-civilian institutions to fill the gaps, because the country has to move on either through civilian or military bureaucracy.

— The writer is an author, columnist, and foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media.

She can be reached at @ShaziaAnwerCh

Email: [email protected]

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