To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested.
Syed Bakhtiyar Kazmi In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies “Britain has invented a new missile. It’s called the civil servant — it doesn’t work and it can’t be fired” — Walter Walker. To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested. And let there be no doubt, nothing is outside the purview of the bureaucracy; a highly disciplined, ultimately unified and faithfully protected institution, cultivated over generations under a straightforward ideology, my way or the high way, all or nothing! The Commonwealth nations will remain eternally and infinitely grateful to the Empire for this awesome bestowment: long live the civil servant; notwithstanding Mr Churchill’s observation that some civil servants are neither servants nor civil. Anyone can shuffle or reshuffle them around, but in time, nothing can endure a conflict with a civil servant. The public service is a self-immortalising absolutism (doesn’t work, cannot be fired and are not elected!), which mere politicians or mere journalists can, admiringly, never even begin to understand. However, what the genre of politicians and journalists do understand very clearly is to avoid, like the plague, comrades who have invoked the wrath of a civil servant. This article is not about bureaucracy bashing, it is about the importance of manifestos, which unfortunately, currently are tantamount to nothing! And the persistent reader will again ask, but what does bureaucracy have to do with manifestos, and that is exactly the point: nothing! Finally grinning on nothing! In the history of democracy, what can perhaps be asserted without any fear of reprisal is that the populace has never ever read a single page of any manifesto, prior to using its hallucinatory vote. More on why votes are hallucinatory in some other article some other time. For the moment, the origin of this article lies in wondering whether the bureaucracy shying away in shadows within the corridors of powers, responsible for the eventual implementation of a manifesto, ever took these documents seriously. The answer, after a lot of reflection, most likely not! And why is this line of thought prescient? Unpretentiously, because in spite of great advances in technology, the combined knowledge of all brilliant minds of the modern era has failed in inventing any substitute for the inconspicuous civil servant, the unelected masters of the universe. Even democracy, the darling of civil society, fails at this juncture. “No matter how good you are, don’t ever let them see you coming. That’s the gaffe my friend. You gotta keep yourself small. Innocuous. Be the little guy...” John Milton in the movie The Devil’s Advocate. So, what if there was an innocuous department in the caretaker government specifically responsible for approving manifestos, prior to parties being granted election symbols, and in case of rejection, the findings to be considered for assessments under Articles 62 and 63; after all, breaking promises is a sin. At the outset, life will surely become difficult for the authors. Since everyone will be simultaneously filing on the closing date, the current opportunity to cheat or improve upon the last available manifestos will evaporate. Original and imaginative thought will be required to convince the competent authority. Manifestos also do not follow bureaucratic norms, which is necessary since irrespective of the criticism, the civil service, amongst other things, is known to be meticulous about form. Most likely, the concerned department will notify a standard format for the manifesto, setting out in triplicate the information required therewith. Amongst other things, to qualify for any credible analysis, the singular percept currently lacking in every party’s manifesto is an explanatory analysis of their previous manifestos. This proposition has universal applicability. While those in power definitely need to defend their performance against the unrealistic promises made just a few years ago, those yet to be blessed with absolute power also need to clarify changes in their vision over time. Without exaggeration, those who have frequented the corridors of the Pakistan secretariats can easily visualise the file noting of the much feared Section Officer, if subsequent editions of the manifesto do not analyse past performance or clarify the catalyst for change in earlier versions. Assuming the impossible, the respective parties resubmit their manifestos after necessary amendments regarding historic performance, perchance disguised by tall claims and questionable data. That just would not do with the bureaucracy. At the end of a long process, each and every historic assumption will either get supported by tons of paper or conversely subjected once again to an adverse file note. Frankly, once on the file, only the elders of the services can unlock the mischief of the noting, and that is hardly a frequent occurrence. Accordingly, at this point in time, the manifesto will be relegated to the dreaded record room, where it will lie until perhaps the next elections. Assuming the fantastic, probably only in the case of those clamouring for a change, alterations from the last document, especially in the absence of historic performance, are accepted and the Section Officer can finally move to the next step, or is it the next hurdle? Horribly, the ghostwriter misunderstood the format. Each assertion or futuristic claim needs to be supported by valid verifiable data and assumptions, has to be quantified and needs to be accompanied by a timeline. Also, curriculum vitae of the technical team together with their proposed portfolio are a must. Finally, Key Performance Indicators need to be precise and concise for ease of reference and future monitoring. Accordingly, “I am directed to inform that the competent authority has deferred approval of the subject manifesto until it is resubmitted after regularising the matters set out therein.” The intent today was not to ridicule manifestos; in fact, quite the opposite, the intent was to highlight that the most important document in the electoral process has become a mere formality. In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies, and the populace can hardly be blamed for voting for the candidate rather than an ideology. Truly, after scanning a few, none of the existing manifestos qualify for consideration under a bureaucratic process, and since the masses are too naïve to analyse fanciful futuristic claims, manifestos will remain a ritual. The complete lack of enthusiasm by the champions of democracy, on this key, perhaps paramount matter, is rather perplexing for the lonely but avid and passionate opponent of democracy. Don’t just do it, do it right! If things continue as they are there will be manifestos, manifestos everywhere with not a drop of sense. Perhaps next week, the recently issued manifesto for change can be subjected to a bureaucratic analysis, so ‘wit’ for it! For the time being, looking forward to back to golf! Cheers The writer is a chartered accountant based in Islamabad. He can be reached at syed.bakhtiyarkazmi@gmail.
The Daily Times, 16 April 2013