Government’s institutional reforms process progressing smoothly

ISLAMABAD:Institutional reforms and streamlining functioning of the government departments and organizations to enhance efficiency and making them cost effective had been a gigantic task for respective governments.

Although the previous governments made tall claims about enhancing efficiency of the government departments and state owned enterprises. But every passing day witnessed deterioration in dispensation and financial non-viability of key departments like Pakistan Railways, Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Steel besides many other small enterprises.

The present government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan also took the challenge to reforms these departments and organization to make them financially viable and enhance their performance.

A seasoned expert and economist, Dr Ishrat Hussain, a well known reformist, was appointed as Advisor to the Prime Minister for executing this task.

This time the issue is being addressed in a phased manner as stated by Dr Ishrat Hussain talking to reporter with hopes to derive desired results of putting the institutions on right path to make them contribute in national building.

“Institutional reforms have been divided into four parts. First to reorganize federal institutions by abandoning unnecessary institutions and merging those performing the same job,” Dr Ishrat Hussain said. “There were 441 government departments with many set up without any future planning. We have reorganized and reduced these institutions to 342 either by merging, shutting down or privatizing.”

Secondly, the Advisor said the government is reorganizing, reviving, and restructuring the key institutions such as Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steels Mills and other State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

“We are to make these institutions profitable either keeping under the government or putting on Public Private Partnership mode like the PSM,” he added.

Ishrat Hussain mentioned to civil service reforms as third area and said, major reforms have been finalized and some are implemented as well. “In my view, the weakest aspect of the country’s civil service was performance evaluation and promotion policy as we don’t differentiate between a good performer and a bad performer.”

In new performance policy, he said, instead of depending merely on Annual Confidential Report (ACR) of employees, a system of key performance indicators has been introduced.”The promotion would now be on the basis of performance, training and competence and not the seniority alone.”

Dr Ishrat Hussain said when the promotion rules were implemented, somebody challenged it in the court which decided that rules were established purely on merit and there was nothing wrong with them.

Under the civil service reforms, he stated, the federal services posts are being downsized from 640,000 to 570,000 as 70,000 vacant posts in Basic Pay Scales 1 to 16 were being scrapped and the savings made would be used for increasing salaries of the civil servants.

Similarly reformatting of the Central Superior Services (CSS) is also under consideration, he said. “After implementation of the reforms package, professionals would have greater prospects of advancement. We are proposing National Executive Service for the top tier, composed of generalists and specialists.”

He said the CSS examination should be revamped asking the candidates to appear in subjects of interest pertaining to the service they want to join. “The candidates must choose their area of interest before taking the nationwide competitive examination.”

Fourthly, he said the reforms are being made in business processes by replacing the old filing system with the electronic based office work (E-Office). “All material would be available on website and people would not need to physically visit offices in most cases.”

All these four basic reform were at various stages of execution and the process would expedite during days ahead. We are making decisions and execute simultaneously. In July 2019, reorganization of the federal government departments was approved and an implementation committee is ensuring execution of the decisions.”

Executive Director Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri said institutional reforms are not about amending laws and policies only but behavioral management. “It is very important to make the reforms successful. We do not need simple amendments in laws but to change the decades old mindset.”

He said Pakistan is a country where there is not dearth of policies and rules, but what is lacking is their implementation and execution. “We have to focus changing global trends and move towards emerging and modern focused style of working.”

Commending Advisor to Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity Dr Ishrat Hussain’s efforts in making reform successful, Dr Abid said instead of introducing reforms at once and at the stroke of a pen, the Advisor is introducing reforms in phases. “It is good omen that reforms are being done in phases instead of through single stroke of pen.”

He said a number of departments are non-functional and under the reforms the total number has been reduced from 450 to 350. “We need to end the overlapping tasking of the institutions.”

Likewise, about civil services reforms, Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri said, the work is being done in this regard in bits and pieces which is a good sign as such reforms require slow and steady implementation process.

He said reforms mean ‘a change in behaviors and management style’ and for the purpose there is need get input from the groups feeling threatened from reforms, otherwise reforms would not have desired results.