Jun 012008

WRITERS on public administration used to refer to Parkinson’s Law, which holds that a bureaucracy is inherently a self-enlarging creation. A unit of five functionaries, including a supervisor, to do a relatively small job may be set up. Before long, it will take on unnecessary chores and start claiming that it is overworked and understaffed.

The supervisor will want a deputy who in turn will want an assistant, and fairly soon the organisation will have increased to three times its original size. It will also have become unwieldy, less efficient and wasteful.

The same tendency works in bureaucracies outside the public sector, including political parties which, even if they have little to do, will create an army of office bearers. Posts and designations are created and awarded because men of substance will not join a party simply to promote the good of the order. They want to be able to show the folks back home that the world outside recognises their importance and value.

Witness the recent formation of central and provincial governments (cabinets) in this country. In addition to a head (prime minister or chief minister), they have senior ministers, regular ministers, ministers of state, a variety of advisors and parliamentary secretaries.

The central government following the 2002 election consisted of more than 60 ministers. The existing departments, not numerous enough to take in all of the aspirants, were chopped up into segments named ‘divisions’, to accommodate legislators whose support was needed but who would not lend support unless they were made ministers.

This practice continues even after the election of Feb 18, which was thought to have wrought radical change in the nation’s political culture. Those who emerged as winners laid claim to self-denial, insisting that they were not covetous of offices, and that they would support the government of the day if it was doing the right thing and criticise it only to show the right way. But this was mostly pretence. In fact, they all wanted jobs if they could have them. Even Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI, which has only six members in the National Assembly, got away with one ministry in the central government. If the PML-Q is occupying the opposition benches, it is due to the want of an option.

This is not to say that the quest for public office and the accompanying fun is wicked. It is one of the ends of the competitive pursuit of power called democracy. A politician gets office if his party, having received the popular mandate to govern, chooses to give him one. But it is unethical for him, or even for his party, to sell its support to others to enable them to form a government. This unethical practice is still going on. It goes by the name of ‘power sharing’ and, to make it sound chaste, ‘reconciliation’.

If I may be allowed a slight digression, I should like to submit that the term, ‘reconciliation’, is being used loosely in the current political discourse. Reconciliation may be brought about between parties that have been enemies, parties at war. It is irrelevant to rivals in the game of democratic politics. There can be no democracy if there are no rivals. Opponents may quit being opponents for a time and come together in a power-sharing arrangement. But if all players come into the same team, there will be no game or, let us say, match.

Having won a solid majority in the Sindh Assembly, the PPP could have formed a viable government without the aid of others. Mr Asif Zardari, professedly moved by the spell of national reconciliation, wanted to take the MQM as a partner in the provincial government. Negotiations to settle the number of ministries and portfolios the MQM would get ensued and went through many rounds.

Not getting as much as they wanted, the MQM negotiators, claimed to be disenchanted with the PPP’s attitude and broke off the talks. But they were soon persuaded to return to the table and, on April 30, concluded an agreement, which gave them 13 out of 34 ministries (a number which is now said to have reached 52).

In pre-independence India, a provincial cabinet hardly ever exceeded 10 members and it worked well. The government of Sindh does not have to comprise 52 ministers (reports say more of them are on the way). A cabinet of 15 divided between the two parties on a nine to six basis would have been quite adequate. The tendency to think that big government is the more desirable is not unique to Sindh. The government in Balochistan could have done with five ministers but it ended up with more than 30. The same tendency has been at work in Punjab.

These governments include departments such as culture, youth affairs, technical education, public health engineering, environment, religious affairs, minority affairs, human rights, tourism in addition to the traditional and well-established portfolios. It may be assumed that politicians want to be ministers because they will then have power and the gratifications it brings. There is power to be exercised if one is a minister in charge of law and order, finance, commerce and industry, education, health, agriculture, possibly among others. But I do not see that there is any power to exercise in departments of religious affairs, youth affairs, culture, tourism, protection of minorities, human rights.

Why would then anyone want to be minister for tourism or youth affairs? There is no power here but the post still carries numerous benefits for the holder in addition to a substantial salary and allowances, such as private secretaries and personal assistants, healthcare, free furnished housing and domestic servants, several chauffer-driven automobiles, escorts, foreign trips to attend conferences on esoteric subjects , unlimited access to long distance telephone, media exposure and enhanced prestige among constituents back home.

These advantages and comforts are not to be dismissed lightly. It is surely more fulfilling to be a minister for youth affairs, with no work and a lot of fun, than to be only a neglected backbencher in the legislature.

I am not saying that none of those who become ministers have an interest in serving the public interest. But it is my impression that in far too many instances the primary objective is not as much to serve the people as it is to obtain personal gratification at their expense.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, was until recently a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics.


Source: Daily Dawn, 1/6/2008

 Posted by at 5:12 pm

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