The following mention appeared in Daily Times on Feb 20, 2022 at the following link
The outburst of criticism both from the Opposition and some cabinet ministers on the recently-announced results of a performance review of 41 ministries has, arguably, once again demonstrated that investing effort and money in large visible projects such as motorways and intra-city transport systems is much safer and politically more beneficial than undertaking long-term governance reforms. It was a bold step on part of Prime Minister Imran Khan to opt for systemic reforms in the government and undertake performance review. He, in fact, went a step further and, despite advice to the contrary, publicly announced the results of the performance assessment.
“Transformation of governance” was on top of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) First 100 Days Agenda, and its 2018 election manifesto. A total of six policy pillars were in the two documents; besides transforming governance, the pillars included a strong federation; economic growth; agriculture; social services such as health, education, social safety net; and finally, national security.
The Performance Management System and, more specifically, the Performance Agreements are directly linked to Imran Khan’s agenda of transforming governance. Imran Khan came into power promising reforms in almost all spheres of the state structure. While the prime minister can identify broad areas of reforms, the preparation of detailed action plan for these reforms and its implementation largely depends on about a million-strong government functionaries divided into 41 ministries and divisions at the federal level. Imran Khan’s government has assigned most of these reform actions to these ministries in the form of initiatives. The list of initiatives, deadline for their completion, targets to be achieved in each quarter to contribute to the completion of initiatives are all part of the Performance Agreements for the two financial years, 2021-22 and 2022-23, signed by the prime minister and each minister. The ministry-wise list of initiatives and some other details are given in a booklet titled Delivering Results, which has been uploaded on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office.
There are a total of 426 initiatives required to be completed by June 30, 2022. Another set of 456 initiatives is to be completed by June 30, 2023. Although, on the average, each ministry has 22 initiatives to complete in two years besides some ‘running initiatives’, this number considerably varies from ministry to ministry. For example, the National Security Division has only one initiative to complete during the two years and that is the formulation of the National Security Policy. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has to complete 45 initiatives as per its Performance Agreement.
These initiatives have not been unilaterally imposed on the ministries, rather these are the result of mutual agreements following discussions and ‘bargaining sessions’ between senior officials of each ministry on the one side and the Peer Review Committee (PRC) headed by the Planning Commission deputy chairman and other senior officials on behalf of the PMO on the other.
In order to monitor the progress on these initiatives, the ministries have been asked to divide each initiative into an average of 4 to 5 quarterly targets. The PRC meets senior officials of each ministry headed by its federal secretary every quarter and ascertains the progress made by them against the set targets. It is not only a progress measuring session; the PRC and other senior officials help each ministry in resolving the bottlenecks faced in completing an initiative because of reliance on other ministries. The officials from the interfacing ministries are also invited to resolve the issues during the meeting.
Most of the recent media commentary on the performance results has focused on individual ministers instead of ministries as institutions employing thousands of employees, in some cases. Despite the fact that a minister heads a ministry, and most of the time becomes its face, the reality on the ground is that it was the performance of the ministry as an institution and all its staff that was being measured and not that of a minister as an individual or leader. In most of the performance management processes, the federal secretary and other senior staff were involved, and therefore, it is the ministry as a whole that needs to be given credit or discredit. This is also the reason that all employees – from Grade 1 to 22 – of the top 10 ministries have been given extra salaries as bonus. It was symbolic but significant that the concerned secretary and the minister together received the award from the prime minister.
Reforms are important especially for a country like Pakistan which faces numerous challenges in moving forward in terms of economic, social and political development. Reforms can be effectively implemented only through a bureaucracy that is suitably motivated to perform. A system of measuring performance, rewarding good performers and inspiring those who don’t perform so well is, key to implementation of reform agenda. There should be a broad agreement on the need for a performance management system. There may, however, be flaws in the system and some aspects of performance may not have been adequately covered in the performance agreements. These flaws may also have been reflected in the selection of the top performers but one should not reject the entire system on account of some of the details or results of the performance review. The chase for the elusive good governance should continue.