COMMENT: Size matters —Andleeb Abbas - Sunday, January 30, 2011

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With no direction, no accountability and no vision, the country is in a chaotic destruction zone of all that is right and good. The ‘declare, deny and dismiss’ strategy of the government as well as the opposition has made them ideal targets for political blackmail

Downsizing, sorry, rightsizing, or rather reshuffling is in. From government ministries to organisations, the management mantra is to work on the over-bloated body of inefficient and staid institutions and trim down the redundant fat of unwanted staff to bring these institutions back into workable shape. The government, pressurised by its own financial advisors, the public, the media and the opposition, has finally announced that it is going to rightsize the ministerial portfolio. This news, though much demanded, has been received with plenty of scepticism by all concerned, keeping in mind the government’s gutless record of giving in to the pressures of greedy cronies who have refused to resign or leave despite proven incompetence and corruption. In contrast, the layoff of 4,000 employees of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) met with ferocious opposition by the public, media and even the government. Strangely, though both retrenchments are the need of the hour, they will turn out to be another abortive attempt to try to depoliticise affairs that are mired in deep and dirty politics.

What is the real size of our cabinet and what is the ideal size it should be? The first part is easy to answer as we all know that, officially, it is 60 but when you count the advisors and guiders who receive equivalent perks, it is close to a century. This number, compared to just 15 ministers in the US and the UK and around 20 in France, ridicules any attempt at justifying this battalion of ministers. The second part is difficult to answer but, according to the 18th Amendment, it should be 48. However, given the past three years’ performance and the huge financial burden of carrying each minister, reducing it by two-thirds would be a good start since we can all be sure that the absence of these ministers would add more value than their presence. The normal restructuring process involves cutting down the size of the institution and then ensuring that the new structure is manned by people who have the capability of handling the additional charge of enhanced responsibilities. However, the main culprits of this completely disastrous government management are the closest cronies of our top leaders and, thus, have been guaranteed lifetime job security. It is this cosying up with those who matter that has made these confirmed governance defaulters sustain their positions with gay abandon. The star non-performers are the minister of water and power and minister of interior. The unstoppable energy crisis and chronic security issues are a tribute to the criminal negligence, incompetence and indifference of these ministers who dismiss media attacks with a mocking arrogance based on the position guarantees certified by people in high places. However, as expected, after the indiscreet statement by the third star performer, Babar Awan, about laying off some ministries, the PPP leadership has quickly changed the word of rightsizing to reshuffling the ministries, living up to its reputation of being the most spineless government in our history.

On the other hand, the KESC’s ousting of 4,000 redundant staff proved a total fiasco. It became a political hotbed for another media coup by opportunists who want to pose as saviours of the underprivileged by sloganeering and instigating action against an organisation that has been blamed for being inefficient and overloaded with the undeserving. The KESC has had several leadership changes and expatriates from all nationalities with proven records of transforming the energy sector taking over the reins of this turbulent organisation. However, to date, none of them have survived beyond a few terms. Politics and government interference have been so deep rooted that most of them either quit or are asked to quit to accommodate the same parasites who have been responsible for the rot in the organisation. After having harassed the management of the KESC into restoring the jobs of these redundant employees, the government and other parties are declaring themselves heroes of the hour. As usual, there is no proper thought through envisioning the consequences of this action on investment prospects in the country. Abraaj Capital, the Middle East group that had taken up the humungous task of cleaning up this institution, had gone by its agreed contract of waiting three years before downsizing the organisation. With such forced deviation from agreements by the government, they must be having second and third thoughts about investing in this political furnace and may already be thinking of packing their bags and leaving this country. If terrorism and political instability are not scary enough, government interference is sure to boot away any investor who was considering Pakistan as a market prospect. How the government plans to convert white elephants like PIA, Railways and WAPDA into agile horses is hard to imagine as most of these need to shave off a majority of their staff that has been fed on easy money and little skill accumulation for the past so many decades. Forced employment in the long run will damage institutions and the overall growth of jobs in the economy. With the additional burden of redundant staff, these institutions are destined to be unprofitable, and, without money to spare, growth is retarded, leading to eventual decrease in headcount, salaries and perks. Another damaging impact of the reinstatement of these dissenters is that they will now become holier than thou and not only dismiss any further attempts to improve their performance but also demoralise those who want to work and contribute honestly — thus perpetuating a culture of the inefficient and incompetent. How can any organisation or individual without accountability of performance ever survive and grow?

With no direction, no accountability and no vision, the country is in a chaotic destruction zone of all that is right and good. The ‘declare, deny and dismiss’ strategy of the government as well as the opposition has made them ideal targets for political blackmail. Their own weakness of character has made them easy targets for threats and warnings by exploiters and opportunists. Thus, the race is on for who can cash in on the government’s insecurity of retaining power amongst the clamouring demand for a total operation cleanup. However, no amount of false populism can guarantee sustainability of rank and position. But then leaders without vision are inevitably blind to the obvious and oblivious to the writing on the wall.

The writer is a consultant and can be reached at

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