Friday, 19 June 2009

Why are public officials transferred so rapidly?

Egoism has led to a certain form of transparency in government and it is disturbing. Most offices now have nice wooden boards with names of all officials who have warmed that seat in the last few years. But wait a minute, for some reason they hardly get to warm the seat or for even the paint to dry. Let me explain!

These wooden boards have the names of officials who served in those offices as well as the dates of their tenure. In recent visits to many of these offices, I did a quick calculation and found that the tenure of officials in a posting has been extremely short. Most officials are lucky if they remain in a position for more than a year. Secretaries are rotated out almost on a yearly basis, customs officials are lucky if they last a few months and the director cooperatives board is moved so rapidly that he probably remains in a daze.

Why do we have such quick transfers? The explanation is a combination of the following 4 factors.

  1. Each of these offices confers certain power and privilege and in some cases even possible certain pecuniary advantages. Quick transfers may be an egalitarian method of sharing these advantages.
  2. Longer tenures could make the officer more entrenched, increasing corruption and power gains and possibly even making it difficult to remove her. Quick transfers would prevent any one from being too powerful.
  3. Longer tenure could also create a sense of pride in the job leading the officers to improve the situation to the detriment of those that follow. Quick transfer would therefore, keep the rentseeking equilibrium stable.
  4. There is a stable group around any leadership that is strengthened by these quick transfers. Key secretaries, such as the principal secretary and the finance secretary are relatively more stable. Their role is obviously strengthened by these quick transfers.

Do these quick transfers affect efficiency of the department? In every job there is a learning content. Management specialists say that a person takes few months to a year to learn the job. Every job also has a creative content in that the incumbent can once having learnt the job develop better methods of doing the job. Learning by doing in a job and innovation through such learning, often results in productivity improvements and reforms. If both these internationally proven facts also apply to Pakistan then certainly these quick transfers are detrimental to efficiency.

Transfers are a colonial legacy. Nowhere in the advanced countries do you have the concept of transfers. Most civil services do not have common cadre. Each department employs, trains and manages its own staff. No transfers are forced on any official to arbitrarily move either location or department. As a result employees are happier and specialize in their respective areas.