PML (N) government has made it clear that it intends to break from the past and pursue a merit-based process in the appointment of heads of regulatory bodies as well as government-owned entities.
An advertisement carried by print media has invited prospective candidates to apply for jobs. But realising the fact that best available talent could not be enticed to step forward, a second advertisement has been published asking human resource consulting firms to associate themselves with the executive search locally and abroad by enlisting themselves in the Cabinet Division. This indeed is a right approach as the best of the best would already be employed and would be hesitant to take a plunge in the hurly-burly challenge that is bound to face them upon appointment. Further, they would want strict confidentiality in the selection process for certain obvious reasons.
This is precisely how the private sector businesses tap human resource for top positions. Hitherto the norm was quite different with the Federal Government not adhering to any legally accepted procedure towards making such vital appointments and was constantly ignoring provisions stipulated by law. Mostly names were forwarded from the President’s or Prime Minister’s offices to oblige influential figures. Such practices are rampant and cannot be condoned as they are arbitrary and unsuited to selection in a fair and transparent manner as provided in the law that requires diligence and objectivity and total avoidance of arbitrariness and subjectivity.
The higher judiciary has had to involve itself in executive domain as the executive branch was not following a proper mechanism for targeting and attracting a pool of qualified candidates. Unfortunately, however, some very talented appointees were removed by the courts on grounds of failure to follow the established procedure.”Overactive” courts were criticised by the Executive Branch for ‘trespassing’ on its territory.
But the courts were forced to do so because of a whimsical manner in which the head of the Executive Branch had been operating. In a judgement, the Supreme Court observed that Roman emperor “Caligula” appointed his horse Incitatus as Consul and priest in a new proof of his insanity. The appointment of an old cellmate by Gilani as chairman OGDC and Tauqir Sadiq as head of a Regulatory Body (Ogra) were indeed inexcusable.
Military governments fixed certain jobs for which the Chief of the Army, Navy or Air Force hitherto enjoyed nomination powers. In a civilian-led government – political connections, friendship and relationships mattered in the selection process. However, in both eras the Prime Minister/President validated the recommendation submitted by the relevant ministries. The selection was preordained. The system was turned into a farce. An individual was selected first and subsequently a summary moved by the Secretary of the concerned ministry with two dummy names added to the list to satisfy the laid down procedure.
There was no search committee or a selection committee for short-listing of candidates for a final interview with the head of Executive Branch. The noting on each file and timing of its movement showed beyond doubt that the procedure was contrary to norms of merit and transparency. The Supreme Court has noticed that noting on official files clearly shows a wholly haphazard and unstructured culture of contacts, recommendations or ‘sifarish’ has pervaded the corridors of government in the matter of appointments.
Merely submitting to the court that the appointments were made as per past practices does not meet the criteria of undertaking due diligence or employing a fair and transparent selection process. As such, courts removed heads of NAB, FBR, SECP on grounds of flawed selection process and not for reasons that the persons were not ‘fit and proper’ for their jobs.
The Supreme Court has directed the Executive Branch to either advertise these posts or else have talent scouts with needed expertise and who can ensure confidentiality of applicants or else through any other sufficiently transparent and inclusive process. The court has left it to the executive branch to formulate a transparent process in matters of appointments, promotions as well as dismissals of key executive officials including but not restricted to ministers, senior bureaucrats and heads of regulatory bodies and statutory corporations. The court has made it clear that process of public office appointment is subject to judicial review to ensure adherence to command of law.
While the PML-N government appears to have taken note of court observations and is showing strong signs to follow a better process – it does not mean that the present culture of nepotism and cronyism would come to an end. In our system, the successful professional happens to be a person who has the ‘ear of the de-facto chief executive’ and is able to override the obstacles placed in his way of working by the babus in the concerned ministry. Mistakes will be made.
However, if they are not on any personal reason they can be condoned. In the context of right selection in Pakistan; technical expertise is only half of requirement for a CEO. The other half and equally important, if not more, is his ability to navigate through the corridors of power and work the system in Islamabad. The need for a godfather does not end with the selection mechanism. John Milton, the famous English writer and poet, once said: “Laws can discover sin, but not remove it.” In other words, the law does not remove sin; it reveals sin. – Brecorder