Jobs for votes
THE patronage-heavy political system here is moving into overdrive ahead of the general election and government jobs are the prized offering. With the ECP already having intervened to prevent mass inductions into state-run organisations and government departments, the Sindh, Punjab and federal governments have found a failsafe route: regularising contract employees. In Sindh, 24,000 contract employees of the health department have been given permanent jobs. In Punjab, all contract employees in government grades 1-16 are to be granted the prize of a permanent job — with the chief minister, who announced the scheme on Friday, not even bothering to inform how many employees will be affected and what it will cost the province. The difference between a government job on contract and one that is regularised, as it is known in local parlance, is substantial: pension and other long-term benefits and the near-impossibility of being made redundant in a bloated government and semi-government sector.
To the lucky thousands who are to benefit from such entitlements the largesse of the respective governments will not be forgotten in the polling booth, jobs for votes being one of the oldest quid pro quos of politics. But for everyone else, more permanent jobs paid for by the government means a further burden on the state — with no obvious benefits. That’s because the principal criterion for handing out permanent jobs is neither merit nor some genuine requirement for a larger workforce: it is purely about politics and patronage. If burdening the state with more permanent employees is bad enough, the federal government has gone one step further: it’s stacking key commercial posts in Pakistani embassies abroad with political appointees. The commerce ministry is, over the objections of a parliamentary committee, seeking to quickly send abroad 44 trade officers handpicked by senior government officials; officers who have been selected over candidates with better qualifications and, in some cases, officers who are believed to not even meet the minimum qualifications. When the centrality of exports to Pakistan’s wobbly macroeconomic framework is factored in, the move by the government is almost criminal: incompetent or under-qualified trade officers are being sent out to drum up business for Pakistan instead of meritorious candidates at a time when higher foreign currency inflows are urgently needed.
Can anything be done to prevent such abuses of power? Politicians won’t do it: they are after all the ones abusing their powers in the first place. Perhaps, then, the ECP can use its platform to further discourage wholesale changes in government jobs and appointments before the election.