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Red tape... bureaucracy

With the emergence of the State, the institution of bureaucracy was set up to administer affairs such as revenue collection, implementation of law, keeping a check on crime and upholding the maintenance of social order, price regulation for commodities and the welfare of people. In the early period of history, it was a custom among rulers to appoint administrative officers from the nobility. This was not based on merit but on the privilege of their birth. The system prevailed in most countries and continued for some time without a major change.

China was the first country to introduce the institution of bureaucracy systematically, which became well-organised and well-disciplined during the Han period. According to the Chinese system, bureaucrats were selected after a meticulous and competitive examination that was open to all classes of society. They were required to study the history of China, teachings of Confucius and the values and norms of morality.

In the first stage, examinations were held in districts throughout China. Those who qualified were allowed to appear in the final examination which was held in the capital. The duration of the examination was three days and the candidates were asked to bring their bedding, food, writing materials and chamber pot. Candidates were allotted a cell where they would spend three days writing answers to the questions. In case of the death of a candidate, his body was taken away from the cell without disturbing other candidates. Copying was strictly prohibited. In one case, an invigilator was beheaded because of negligence of duty.

Those who passed the examination were appointed on high and important posts. They were allowed to wear a special dress and have a carriage for their conveyance. They were married into the nobility in order to integrate them with the ruling classes. This system continued for nearly 2,000 years only to be interrupted by the Mongols who ruled over China and brought their own bureaucrats for administration. Revived again by the Ming dynasty, these bureaucrat scholars were known as mandarins.

Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status. — Laurence J. Peter
In Europe, the modern bureaucratic system was introduced by the Prussian government. The administration was divided into different units and trained bureaucrats were appointed to deal with the affairs of each department. The other European governments followed it and instituted competitive examinations for selection of the bureaucrats.

In India, the British government established the Indian Civil Services (ICS) cadre for bureaucrats. The candidates were asked to learn Latin and other classical languages and the subjects of their choice included history, economics, politics and law. The maximum age for the candidate to appear was 20 years.

Despite the regulations, which were aimed at not giving the locals a fair chance, Rabindranath Tagore’s brother passed the examination, bewildering the British government. To ensure that such an incident would not repeat in the future, the government reduced the age from 20 to 18 years. The duration of their service was to be 30 years after which they would be retired. With the passage of time, the colonial rulers had no choice but to hold these examinations in India, so that the Indians could become a part of the colonial bureaucracy.

Hannah Arendt in her book The Origins of Totalitarian State points out that imperialism and bureaucracy were co-related. The example is British India, where 1,000 British bureaucrats administered and managed the affairs of the state in the subcontinent. They were highly paid in order to prevent them from resorting to bribery and corruption. They were honest and responsible officials who served the cause of colonialism with zeal. In India, bureaucracy was sustained and the colonial rule was strengthened by administrative skills.

In Pakistan, we inherited this colonial institution which was specifically designed for foreign rulers to run the administration with an anti-people approach. The same policy continued after partition. Gradually, the competitive examinations lost their validity while influential families would interfere with the process of selection to get appointments for their children and relatives. The institution further deteriorated when the system of lateral entry was introduced and ‘favourites’ were appointed on high posts without a fair judgment of their merits. Retired army officers also have a quota fixed in the civil services.

Consequently, most bureaucrats are not capable of dealing with the complex issues of their departments, their real interest being to obtain privileges and financial benefits that come with their appointment as civil servants. To get promoted, they require recommendations by higher authorities which are only possible through sycophancy and corruption. The institution of bureaucracy has been further ruined by military dictators and inefficient and corrupt politicians. There is a distance between the bureaucrats and people and officials are not interested in either solving the problems of the masses or in their welfare.

History shows us that when government officials become corrupt, inefficient and dishonest, the society faces crisis after crisis without any solution in sight. This is the situation that the Pakistani society confronts presently.

By Mubarak Ali, dawn.com