By Ibn-e Eusuf
Sometimes I wish I could afford a few assistants devoted to scouring the Pakistani media on a daily basis. In short order one could have a book called Bizzaristan comprised of the fantastical workings of the minds of Pakistan’s rulers and managers. Alas, I can’t so I will confine myself to reporting on the occasional item that is particularly revelatory of the way in which we are ruled and governed.
A news item informs us that following a charge of incompetence, the principal administrative officer (DCO) of the leading district in the leading province of the country has been transferred and appointed as the Chief Economist of the Provincial Planning and Development Board (PDB). The Chief Economist’s job includes supervision of the economic affairs of the province, framing of economic policies, analysis and formulation of strategies, and planning and development. The rules stipulate the minimum qualification for the latter to be a PhD in Economics; the officer has a MA in English Literature.
So far, so typical. No one would even bat an eyelid at such a posting – it is par for the course and tells us nothing new. What does afford a window into this world is the narrative surrounding the posting.
Here is the opening statement of the government spokesperson: “I don’t know whether Mr. X qualifies for the job or not but I will check with the quarters concerned.” Fairly standard, once again, but focus on what follows:
He said the government had not given a prime post to the former DCO as the PDB chief economist’s was a non-administrative job. “Had the government appointed him DCO in Y or other important city, it would have been an objectionable act.”
To substantiate his claim, he said a chief economist could not spend a single penny as he had other affairs to look after.
There, we have it, the worth of a Chief Economist’s job in the mind of the Pakistani government and bureaucracy and its relative ordering with respect to that of a DCO. What is the value of a non-administrative position where there is not even a single penny to be spent? What is the relative merit of a PhD in economics compared to a MA in English Literature?
The Chief Economist’s position is a hardship post, an outhouse where disgraced administrative officers under a cloud can be sequestered till a way is found to rehabilitate them. Is it any surprise that the economic policies and affairs of the country are in such an astounding mess?
But the narrative is by no means over. Here is what the officer himself has to say:
Mr. X told the newspaper that although he had joined as Chief Economist on paper, he was actually working as Member Public Service Development in the P&D Board. He admitted that the minimum qualification for the post of Chief Economist was a PhD in Economics. “I have done my master’s in English Literature. Perhaps due to this or some other reason, I am dealing with the affairs of industry and environment in my capacity as the Member PSD.”
Perhaps! As someone said, there is no sense of irony in Pakistan.
But note: the Chief Economist’s job has been filled only on paper. It is a vacant office, a ghost position, good only for the salary and the perks that can be drawn against it. It is not even important enough to have a real human being behind the desk.
The ones who matter are chasing the pennies that can be spent while the office that determines how they are to be spent sits empty. The engine has no driver. Does that describe Pakistan adequately for you?
One would think that without a driver the pennies to be spent would shrink and ultimately disappear but you would be ignoring yet another fantastical facet of the story – the Friends of Pakistan, our generous donors and absentee drivers who are pouring new money into the coffers as fast as they can because our managers are doing a very fine job, or so we are told.
Thanks Mr. Kerry. Thanks Mr. Lugar. But where have all the pennies gone? Where will all the pennies go? Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lugar are lucky – they do not have to put a meal together in Pakistan.
Tail Piece: There was another news item the following day that reported on Mr. Pervez Musharraf’s address in New Jersey where he charged that Mr. Nawaz Sharif had amassed over $1 billion in ill-gotten wealth that was stashed away in bank accounts in London. Mr. Musharraf assured the audience he would charge the Sharifs if he was returned to power. Asked why he had been keeping quiet about the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that is also accused of bilking the country of billions of dollars, Mr. Musharraf is reported to have said: “The PPP government was under fire and I do not want to put more pressure on it.” Ah, for the principled generosity of Mr. Pervez Musharraf; may all his dreams come true.
The details, some text, and the quotes are from news items which are not linked. The identity of any one person is not germane to the point of the post; it is only intended to show up what is the norm in Pakistan.