Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Houses for government officials

Houses for government officials

The Punjab Chief Minister has announced a scheme of houses for the government officials at retirement. This scheme has been widely appreciated and the newspapers are full of praise for the CM. Probably this scheme was inspired by the highly popular similar scheme for the military officers and would certainly be followed by other provinces. It is always nice to see someone getting his own house as it is a basic right, but should we apply this selectively and that also for the benefit of an already pampered group? Is it only the right of the government officials and not others? Who will pay for this generosity? Before joining the chorus of appreciation these questions must be considered.

The bill for this good deed will once again fall upon the most exploited class, the poor taxpayer. Apart from the less than 1% privileged class of big businessmen and landholders this class mostly consists of the downtrodden. Most of the ordinary Pakistanis who are expected to pay this bill cannot arrange for basic education and health facilities for their children. Most of them do not enjoy the basic amenities of life considered needs. This group should not be burdened anymore as it is unable to generate more resources for someone else’s privileges.

The government officials of any type are the privileged people of this society for the following reasons,
They enjoy a secure job whereas in the private sector the employers can fire any employee due to his whims. In the public sector many people are known to be getting salaries without ever doing anything. No such luxury for the private sector employees.
At the time of retirement they usually get a lump sump amount to settle themselves and their families. No such privilege for the privately employed people.
The public sector people are relatively immune to the biggest tyrant, the state. The police or WAPDA or any other govt institution known for making life tough for the Pakistanis, is must softer on their brethren in government.
And then there are many unofficial privileges like license to corruption.
In the private sector the employees are always on their tows. The public sector workers have no idea of efficiency the private sector demands. They do not enjoy any perks or facilities and do not expect many retirement benefits. Still they are expected to pay for the already privileged.

According to the informed neutral observers the state of Pakistan is over grown and bloated. Whether we see the cars on the road or houses, we find the state living lavishly beyond its means at the expense of the taxpayers. Even the few privileged outside the state usually have strong connections with the state in form of close relations. Because of its ever-increasing size, it requires more and more resources for itself leaving nothing for its actual duty, welfare of the people. In the days of the oppressive colonial powers an average citizen was more likely to get his children educated or medical care at government hospitals and his access to justice was much easier. Now the funds for the people (taxpayers) have shrunk to the extent that philanthropic institutions supply food in the government hospitals. This is admirable for the philanthropists but a shame for the state. Government schools are in shambles and justice has become nearly inaccessible for the ordinary people.

Should the state first provide the basic needs of education and health for its needy or houses and other expensive facilities for its functionaries?

For every privilege there must be a reason. Every one must earn his privilege. Did any of our state institutions ever do any thing worth mentioning to deserve this generosity at the expense of the poor taxpayer? Have they started behaving as civil servants not masters? Are they efficient? Do they have any concept of cost effectiveness? Have they stopped the corrupt practices? Have they stopped scaring off the investors? Did they bring any improvement in the society at all? Unfortunately the answer to all these questions is in negative. So it seems that they would again be rewarded not for their contributions but for their power to create nuisance. No government can take on the civil servants as a class; their privileges have to be protected at all costs. Even at the cost of their masters, the taxpayers. When will we start protecting the interests of the helpless taxpayers?

This over pampering of the government functionaries has created a grave social problem. There are those who have managed to enter the govt service regardless of the means employed, and those who have not. Their difference in socio economic status and privileges is so enormous that every concerned parent tends to use all his influence and resources to join the group. Whichever elected official we visit we find that the most popular demand is of govt service. It is quite understandable as these jobs are much more lucrative and easy. In contrast the civilized world the private sector jobs that are much better rewarded.

The government servants do need facilities and peace of mind but they are not the only ones needing this. Today Pakistan has over 6 million govt servants (serving and retired) and no nation can look after so many people. If we really want to do something for the civil servants, we must reduce their number to reasonable limits first. Then they must be given clearly spelled assignments and monitored very closely, preferably by the people’s participation. If the civil servants perform their duties well and serve the interests of the people then yes, they should be rewarded. These rewards should not be limited to houses alone. They should be able to live a decent life and a good future for their progeny should be ensured. In such a scenario the taxpayers would not have any problem giving these extra benefits out of its coffers.

No country can solve the unemployment problem by employing everyone. USSR, potentially the richest country in the world, tried this and collapsed. We should never lose sight of the truth that govt funds do not come from heavens, rather it is the poor taxpayers country that pays. For this we should make life easier for the private investors and maybe reward them for employing people as they pay taxes with which the government employees salaries and perks are financed. The greatest reward according to most investors would be of saving them from the over grown and unscrupulous government departments. Efforts should be made to protect the interests of the private employees and the employers. Unfortunately if this is done by the state machinery we know of, it would further hamper the interests of businesses and create another opening for corruption.

Welfare of the government officials is considered important everywhere in the world as this enables them to serve the public more efficiently. In Pakistan we remember the first point but tend to lose sight of the actual task, public service. This has resulted in formation of a powerful interest group guarding its interests at all costs leaving the helpless taxpayers defenseless. These groups usually employ powerful and emotional stories of sufferings of honest civil servants to justify their ever-increasing privileges. Interestingly the suffering government officials join the service of their own choice usually after lots of effort. If the life is really so miserable for them why don’t they quit these jobs? Why people are ready to get into this privileged group at ant cost.

We have created a strange culture in Pakistan. This culture respects the spenders of taxes and ignores the taxpayer. Protects the rights of the privileged and ignores the rights of the downtrodden and deserving. Ensures the benefits of the service provider’s but ignores the service. This is because our people have rarely enjoyed power and are considered inconsequential as far as the running of the state is considered. As the government officials are considered more important for bringing or keeping someone in power, the rulers naturally obliges them over the taxpayers. Our Punjab CM is an elected person and he is expected to protect his constituency, the people or taxpayers. He should not lose sight of his primary duty, welfare of the people rather than the officials. If he has found new resources, he must correct his priorities and first provide basic facilities to his voters namely universal education and health facilities. We are spending the lowest in the world on these fields and naturally have the worst facilities available in the public sector. Once this is achieved he can later consider spending the extra resources on welfare of the officials. The solution to our problems is not in making the government sector jobs more attractive rather in reduction of the gap between the public and private sector jobs.

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