Assistant Commissioner vs Firdous: Crisis of Governance in Pakistan

AC vs Firdous

A recent video began to surface on mainstream and social media where a female Assistant Commissioner was being reprimanded by Mrs. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to Chief Minister Punjab, in a Ramazan Bazar visit of the latter. The spat came to an end when the young AC turned around and left amidst Special Assistant’s barbs. Soon, an online war erupted where netizens used different hashtags to provide their partisan support to their respective viewpoint. But amid rebuking Firdous and proving the AC guilty, our nation once again remained aloof as to who was actually being disrespected, humiliated and demeaned here. It was neither the bureaucrat nor the politician, instead, it was the general public, surrounding and watching them who, in the end, will bear the brunt of this squabble.

Sooner or later, the bureaucrat will turn over a new leaf after getting transferred to another province. As for Firdous, she will keep swinging between different political parties, exchanging loyalties and switching sides. It is the general public who is at loss in this fiasco. The incident depicts failure and crisis of governance in Pakistan, making the general public the real affectees of this argument.

The verbal quarrel between the two is nothing but face saving and blaming the other. It depicts institutional decay, plaguing governance in the country. In the issue at hand, a pillar of state, the Executive has come out visibly fragmented. This is because politicians are representatives, prioritizing tenure continuity and planning on winning the next election, hence, they cannot afford bureaucratic hurdles and failures in delivery of service and development. So, the politicians, temporary executive, have become adversaries of the bureaucracy, the permanent executive. As a result of this contention between the two institutions of the executive, the politicians use all the means to influence the bureaucracy and make them accede to the their demands. This political control ends up jeopardising institutional autonomy and injecting corruption and nepotism in bureaucracy.

Furthermore, the incumbent government has paid lip service to the revival of local governments, the best proven institutions for service delivery. In order to ensure political control and avoid financial and administrative devolution further from provincial level, they have used bureaucracy for development, policy implementation and service delivery at grass root level. This has translated into a crisis of governance where trading barbs in a Ramazan Bazar is akin to keeping the public in dark.

The Ramzan bazar act depicts lack of professionalism and management crisis present in governance. Civil servants of the future will not aspire to join a service that can end up ridiculing them in front of a live audience. The level of prestige and constitutional protection enjoyed by civil servants in the past is in doldrums today. When Mrs. Ashiq derisively questioned the AC regarding who had appointed her at that position, she did not just question one AC’s appointment, instead, she challenged the functioning of the whole civil service. Starting from recruitment and training to appointment and service delivery, Mrs. Ashiq has diluted the efficacy and strength of the executive arm of the state.

In addition to this, the incident also shows how the lack of accountability has translated into political vigilantism and has welcomed populist sentiment by shifting the blame. In the AC vs. Firdous bickering, an institution is holding another institution accountable. This act is a transgression and a symptom of governance in crisis. Eroding internal accountability and lack of accountability to the public has created an unbridgeable chasm between the public and bureaucracy providing an open opportunity for vigilante questioning.

Incoherence in governance will cause the public to bear the brunt of this incident. This is because when institutions have friction, governance is meant to fail. In such circumstances, institutional boundaries are not defined and instead of introducing reforms of good governance through coherence, face saving and blame game is employed. Such an environment cripples the system of administration and service delivery and makes good governance a far fetched dream. Moreover, amid this institutional clash, ademocratic forces intervene to fill in the void. The military, widely recognised for its institutional discipline and professionalism, prefers to take over civil institutions in the wake of incoherence, discord and incompetence.

However, from an optimistic perspective, this incident of public denigration of a young bureaucrat at the hands of a seasoned politician can be taken as a visible symptom of institutional incoherence persistent in Pakistan. It can act as a wakeup call for the political elite to proceed with fiscal and administrative devolution to the third tier of governance. Development and infrastructure functions should be assigned to local governments for better service delivery, political oversight of performance, and burden sharing with the bureaucracy. Lastly, the need of the time is to institutionalise internal and external accountability of service delivery to prevent future vigilantism by politicians. Public display of concern like the AC vs. Firdous incident is frivolous and unprofessional, it is proper and institutionalized means of accountability that ensure all inclusive service delivery with consensus oriented decision making.


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