THE Federal Cabinet, which met in Islamabad with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, took several decisions to streamline government working on long-term basis through institutional reforms, establishment of centralised database plan for food stocks in the country, appointment of heads and members of various bodies and inclusion of representatives of consumers in board of directors of 10 power distributing companies.
It also approved signing of MoU with Iran for establishing markets on Pak-Iran border, reviewed progress on implementation of Electronic Voting machines and right of vote for overseas Pakistanis besides taking stock of progress on negotiations with banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
The main thrust of institutional reforms is to rationalise manpower running the federal government machinery as per recommendations of the Cabinet committee on the subject.
The exercise is part of efforts of incumbent government to reduce non-development expenditure, weed out deadwood and improve working of various government departments.
The reforms were long due in view of increasing expenditure on running the government, which is evident from figures presented by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry while briefing media-persons about Cabinet decisions.
He lamented that total expenditure of federal government was Rs175 billion in 2010 yet despite 18th Amendment under which many ministries and institutions were devolved to the provinces, total expenses rose to Rs500 billion by 2017.
The meeting was informed that in the years 2010-11 to 2016-17, total number of government employees was 829,000 whereas in the year 2016-17 alone, 137,000 employees were inducted in the secretariat and attached departments.
Among these employees, around 35pc are working in security, law & order and civil armed forces, 20pc in the infrastructure services, railway, postal, aviation and highways, 18pc in energy sector, 5pc in social sector, 5pc in commercial and taxation and 12pc in data, training, research and judiciary.
The break-up shows majority of employees are associated with law enforcing institutions and obviously there can’t be reduction in their strength in view of law & order situation, rising crime rate and challenge of extremism and terrorism that remains there despite successful operation carried out by armed forces.
There is a modest ratio of employees in other sectors that are critical to national development and therefore, we can minimise their strength only by compromising quality of service.
There are, of course, some departments where, during tenure of the successive governments, inductions were made on political considerations without any regard to merit or actual needs of the departments/organizations concerned.
Such superfluous personnel can be and should be jettisoned as there is absolutely no justification to waste tax-payers’ money on breeding this lot.
However, it may also be mentioned that it has become a fashion to talk about overstaffing, so-called rationalisation, burden of increasing pension expenditure.
There is, indeed, some duplication in working of the ministries and departments, which must be taken care of but otherwise all institutions were created with a specific purpose and instead of rolling them back they should be made to deliver as per their original aims and objectives.
The blanket orders like abolition of all vacant posts would do more harm than any benefit as many institutions, which could not recruit manpower for years due to continuous ban, would suffer hugely.
The expansion of government machinery and increase in expenditure is a natural phenomenon and it is government responsibility to manage resources for salaries and pensions.
The decision to establish a national database of food stock is a step in the right direction in view of revelation made last year during wheat and sugar crisis that there was no authentic data on availability of food items in the country.
This showed serious lacuna in government working and its faulty decision-making process.
The proposed inclusion of representatives of the civil society in board of governors of DISCOs would help safeguard interests of consumers if a merit-based procedure were evolved for this purpose.
The establishment of proper markets with all required facilities on Pak-Iran border might help check the menace of smuggling and there is need to complete formalities for setting up of similar markets on Pak-Afghan border as well.