A visit to a Sindh government  department  at 11 am on a working day this week gave a glimpse of why Pakistan finds it impossible to make progress. A dysfunctional  bureaucracy with its outdated processes and attitudes has kept the planet Pakistan some 200 years behind the rest of the universe.

Of the 9 officers who ought to have been present on their desks, not one had yet arrived.   There were  3-4 staff members (PAs and Office Assistants)  in each office who were engaged in reading newspapers or calling friends. These are the people who actually run these departments,  control the files, demand speed money and provide precious insulation to keep the ‘saab’  disconnected  with the common public.

A dysfunctional  bureaucracy with its outdated processes and attitudes has kept the planet Pakistan some 200 years behind the rest of the universe.  Can the  bureaucrats in Pakistan be made to think  differently and asked to adopt  ‘lean’ work processes.  The ‘lean production’ approach originally  pioneered by Toyota to improve manufacturing processes is now being globally adopted by service industry  including healthcare and government .  It applies to  every business and every process. It is a way of thinking  that focuses on  enhancing customer value, reducing waste and finding better and more efficient ways of accomplishing the same task.

In a brilliant move to go ‘lean’ and simplify processes,  the Indian Prime Minister  last month asked  bureaucrats to repeal all laws and rules which come in the way of effective governance.  He suggested government departments to do away with attestation of certificates by gazetted officers. Instead, documents should be self-attested.   He directed officers to identify 10 rules that can be scrapped or revisited, to make them more relevant to current times.

It is time for  bureaucracy in Pakistan to learn a lesson or two from its neighbor. A  ‘lean’ beginning can be made by rapidly adopting three basic principals.   These are doing away with all ‘gazetted officer’ category of attestations,   eliminating  or drastically reducing  the need for citizens to visit government offices and introducing  telephonic money transfer for payment of all government dues.

Consider for example just one category of a completely unwarranted attestation.  The Supreme Court of Pakistan in  a landmark judgment on March 9, 1999 gave a ruling that members of all ‘Fiqhs’  were entitled to exemption from compulsory deduction of  Zakat, and the Federal Government had no authority to  reject the declaration of any Muslim seeking exemption from Zakat.  Despite the court’s judgment, millions of citizens are still required to undergo the yearly torture of making declarations on   judicial stamp papers and having them signed by a notary public / gazetted officer for presentation to the bank to seek exemption from compulsory deduction of zakat. This anomaly could be easily rectified by removing the requirement of attestation and asking only those Muslims to give in writing (on a plain piece of paper) who do wish their Zakat to be deducted by a bank.

An ordinary citizen visiting a government office typically involves taking a day off, enduring endless hours of wait, often greasing palms and undergoing  contempt and disrespect  of those who are appointed as servants of the public.  This must come to an end.  Every government department must publicly as well as on its website declare the services it offers and how they can be obtained.  Citizens should be enabled to send their requests / queries by post or e mails. Likewise the government must send all documents, licenses, certificates, approvals and decisions by post at the residential address of the concerned individuals.   The  colonial requirement of public needing to visit government offices to submit documents or plead and beg for getting their jobs done must be  firmly brought to an end.

The next urgently needed ‘lean’ reform is to enable all citizens to make payments of all categories (taxes, challans, fines,  fees etc)  without going to any government office or bank.    Individuals should be able to make these payments  sitting in their homes, by using any of the SMS based mobile money transfer schemes such as ‘Easy Paisa’, ‘Mobicash’, ‘UBL Omni’ or ‘Upaisa’.   Every transaction must be responded by an automated ‘Return SMS’  to confirm the receipt of payment.  Likewise the government must pay all salaries, wages, and  disbursements directly  through mobile money transfer, postal money orders delivered at door step or smart cards as the ones used in Benazir income Support Fund.

A ‘lean’ bureaucracy is not simply adopting a few modern techniques but a complete new way of thinking about how everything must be done in an office – reducing  delays, wastages, costs, steps, distances and discretions.  Handicapped by an inept and vain bureaucracy,  Pakistan can be transformed  by  adopting  a ‘lean’ approach in the way it conducts its governance.  Perhaps the book The Machine That Changed the World (James Womack and Daniel Jones) ought to be made a compulsory read for every bureaucrat.