Pakistan has always been one for keeping up with the Joneses. While a highly juvenile and soon to be obsolete way of conspicuous consumption, this pattern of spending and misplaced priorities seems to have grown to determine most of the country’s political agenda and foreign policy. It doesn’t matter if we’re liquid-asset poor, neck deep in debt and have to keep borrowing more just to keep the economy afloat; if the others have something that defines status, we have to scramble to get it too. And the neighbor we most look to as a benchmark for success is the political and economic giant to the East.
When it comes to stocking the artillery and launching a couple of nuclear programs, Pakistan is loath to stay behind the passive aggressive nation it happens to share a border with. The same goes for run-of-the-mill Idol shows and bridal couture fashion weeks. However, there is one major area that we have failed to take notice of when it comes to our shared socio-political landscape; and that is of governance.
While it would be a folly to consider the progress of India a yardstick for our own, the sphere of public administration is one where it would be smart to consider emulating some of the practices the neighboring state is beginning to adopt.
Previously, the culture of the Indian civil service was much like our own: too many liberties taken with the government’s time and money, and not enough work done to justify any of it. Narenda Modi is apparently a man with a plan, however. Being a hard worker himself, he has chosen to lead by example; and for those still not inspired, he has other ways of getting the job done.
Since being elected and coming into power earlier this year, the Indian prime minister has put in place stricter measures to ensure bureaucrats do what they have been hired to do. And that too to the best of their abilities, in the shortest time fame possible.
The Modi government has brought about a radical change in the way the country’s civil servants go about their job. The officials now face longer hours at their desks, having to clock in on time or face disciplinary action. The use of Biometric scanners to monitor the comings and goings of every person has also meant that no fake accounts of attendances will do.
However, the new found efficiency is not the result of just forcing people to show up and spend a couple of hours idling at the office. Key departments now have employees voluntarily coming in before time and going home around midnight; all due to the sheer amount of workload they are suddenly expected to deal with. Therefore, the longstanding practice of taking lengthy lunch breaks and slipping out for a quick round of golf will soon be unheard of. The weekends also seem to have merged into the work week as for many there is simply no time to spare for holidays.
If there is a file on the table, it has to be cleared within two days. And paper pushing is a thing of the past, with officials being encouraged to have greater intra- and inter-departmental communication to prevent files from simply going back and forth and causing undue delays. This is supposed to lead to less bogging down of issues in bureaucratic muddle, faster processing and hence an acceleration of national progress as a whole.
According to the Indian Ministry of Finance, the expenditure on the council of ministers and the Prime Minister’s own office under the Modi government will be down to almost half when compared to that of 2012-13. This is due to the cutting of the cabinet to half its size, and the restrictions placed on official foreign trips and the holding of meetings in five star hotels. With Modi in power, the taxpayers’ money is now in good hands.
Modi seems to be out to revolutionize the workings of the Indian government and the results are bound to be seen sooner rather than later. And while all these great changes are coming about in the neighboring country, our own leaders are very much preoccupied with matters that have very little to do with the actual running of the state.
Coming back to the point about spending a lot more than we actually have, Nawaz Sharif’s recent expenditures would have you believe we’re the wealthiest of nations with plenty to spare. Leaving behind the leaders of far more affluent states, he has been spending millions of rupees from the national exchequer to finance his own personal expensive tastes.
The current budget of the Prime Minister is a staggering 823 million rupees. And according to the Supplementary Demands for Grants and Appropriations 2013-14, the extra budgetary allocation given to him of 68 million has been put to good use. 16.4 million rupees have already been spent on the maintenance of the Prime Minister House. The office too has been redecorated for 12 million while more than a million rupees have been doled out to make the gardens more aesthetically appealing.
Besides landscaping his gardens and renovating his office, Nawaz Sharif also recently made some other grand purchases on behalf of the PML-N government. These include spending 2.4 million rupees on acquiring six sniffer dogs and 120 million on a pair of BMW-76 Li High Security Sedans.
It is actually argued that these specially trained canines are worth the excessive amount because of their superior lineage and extensive training, and are necessary for the security of the prime minister and any foreign dignitaries that come to visit. They are claimed to be a good investment because they’ll save us from the anarchy that will prevail if something were to happen to the prime minister. They will also be around for the protection of whoever comes in power next term, and so cannot be considered a private expenditure on part of Nawaz Sharif.
These arguments hold no merit of course, as there are already more than sufficient security measures in place for the government, and a couple of pups won’t be enough to reassure foreign delegations of their personal safety. In any case, the extravagance of this move cannot be justified by any stretch of the imagination in a country where there is widespread poverty and a presently especially dire IDP situation.
Ours is a state where many people have reason to fear for their lives on a daily basis, and not just because of security issues but because of disease, malnutrition and starvation. Over here, bullet proof vehicles and sniffer dogs make absolutely no sense to have.
And the most abhorrent news is that the money meant for emergency relief has instead been redirected towards the training of pilots who would carry out VVIP missions for Nawaz Sharif. 29 million rupees have already been taken out of the fund for this purpose.
The only message all these current expenditures seem to send out is that the lives of those at the top of the political hierarchy hold more worth than that of those at the grassroots. The common man can apparently do without the most basic amenities of life, but Nawaz Sharif has to have his trained dogs.
The Prime Minister seems to have taken a leaf out of the books of the Mughal emperors who lived on these same lands in much of the same way. They used to carry around a fragrant rose to mask the unpleasantness they were forced to witness when they ventured out of their high walled palaces for an occasional mandatory inspection of their kingdom. Our sovereign is however much more comfortable with the roses staying in his manicured lawns, as the tinted windows of his expensive four-wheelers already help to keep out most of the sickening poverty.
The difference between the leaders of Pakistan and India is clear. Modi is concerned with the welfare of his people and the overall betterment of the country; and will go to great lengths to achieve and ensure it. Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, is currently too busy burying his head in a bed of roses like a privileged ostrich to notice much else.