Stories about bureaucracy

Is reformation of Pakistan’s civil service another empty promise?

“How would you reform the civil service?” Some eight months ago, when one of the members of the interview panel constituted to select the most suitable candidates for the Central Superior Services (CSS) asked me this question, I heaved a sigh of relief. The questions prior to this were trickier than my expectations, and hence unnerving. But this one was, in cricketing terms, a half volley, and I had to try to make the most of it. However, less than a minute into my impassioned speech on what I believed blighted our esteemed civil service and what ought to be done to improve ...

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Is my tax money funding your political advertisement?

Open any newspaper and you’ll find government advertisements – be it provincial or federal – flashing their on-going or upcoming projects. The best term I could come up with for this exercise of self-promotion is ‘political advertising’, meant for boosting a politician’s profile or a junior level politician behaving like a sycophant for his party boss. The phenomenon cuts through all political parties and ideologies, and affects all forms of media, print or electronic. Such adverts are often used to serve party politics rather than public policy. The incumbent government spends the most on such commercials, which explains why the government’s budget for advertising is ...

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If Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was Pakistani, she would be doomed

Devyani Khobragade is one lucky, lucky lady.  To say that about someone who is possibly facing 10 years in prison and was arrested publicly in front of her daughter’s school over visa fraud, is a bit of a stretch, but hear me out.  Khobragade, 39, is an Indian diplomat living in the United States. She is the deputy consul general in New York and currently out on bail. She is someone Pakistani diplomats should be jealous of. Not because she allegedly made USD100, 000 per year. Not because she gets to live in New York. But because as soon as she was publicly humiliated ...

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Why sending bureaucrats’ kids to govt schools won’t work

Would forcing government servants to send their children to public schools help improve the quality of education? While such a populist measure seems well intentioned and simple enough, it betrays our continued ignorance of how education works or at least how it should work. Now don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe that state schools need to be expanded and improved. I believe that schools should be palaces. However, the factors that contribute most to improving the quality of education, measured in terms of examination performance include, the quality of teachers, supportive parents and the financial standing of the student’s household. In ...

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I walk the line

If you are standing, have ever stood, or in the future plan to stand in a line in a government office – read on. But, first, let us establish who you really are. You are someone waiting in a line, of people with strikingly diverse dialects and personas, to get your driver’s license or ID card. You belong to the educated, upper-middle class of the country. You ardently hope to see this country ‘change’. This is why, when your father or uncle offered to place a few calls to save you the trouble of waiting in line,  you chose to abide by ...

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Paying taxes shouldn’t be this hard

Since my BBA program finished, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home. Taking advantage of the situation, my dad asked me to go and pay the car tax a few days ago. Attempt # 1 Still in vacation mode, I dragged myself to the nearest National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) tax-payable branch at 12:45pm. Here, I was welcomed by a long line out in the sun. I was to be number 12 in the line. Not having much planned for the day, I waited for my turn admiring a stray cat that seemed to be in heat as it ...

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The djinns at Pakistan’s public schools

As part of my work, researching the academic standards of public schools in Lahore, I sometimes visit the Government Primary School in the Township area of Lahore. Township is a working class neighbourhood – most of the people who live here work in factories in the Kot Lakhpat Industrial area. It’s relatively clean and less congested than other neighbourhoods. The Government Primary School has an area of nearly 5,000 square yards – the covered area is less than 1,300 square yards. The rest of the area is occupied by thorny bushes and burning dumps of garbage, enclosed by a low-rising boundary ...

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“I want to grow up and be a policeman”

We are a sad lot. Whiners — worse, complacent whiners.  Whether it be a dinner, a wedding or a funeral, we refuse to miss any opportunity to whine and complain about the current political setup. But what do we do about it? The taboo attached to any profession remotely related to politics or the bureaucracy is quite unfortunate; but whining about it being unfortunate is not the answer. Despite all that, there are a few who choose to do something about it. In order to change the system, you have to become a part of it. Watching from the sidelines ...

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Bhais and bureaucracy: A look at real life at KU

Karachi University has often been called a microcosm of our country -there are violent displays of political hatred, bureaucracy and of course, the moral police. One of the many political groups in our university is the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba Pakistan. Much like other religious groups in the country, students from this party enjoy guiding students to “righteousness.” My friends and I hate it when the more extreme members of the party forbid us from sitting in “co-education” groups with our male friends or stop female students from riding bicycles to get around campus. But we cannot deny that members of the same party ...

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Why I broke the law at the Islamabad airport

While working abroad, not many of us can afford to go back to Pakistan for a visit as often as we like. In 2009, when I finally had some time (and $1700 to spare), I landed in Islamabad. Two weeks flew by and I found myself at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, ready to head back to the US. As I handed my passport to the official looking security fellow, he looked at my face and said: “ji, aap kay pass protector nahi hai” (you do not have a protector). With my passport handed back to me, I was dismissed. Having no clue what ...

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