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The Challenge of Reforming the Federal Government: Will Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Succeed?

The President, Association of Administrative Federalism regrets that the appointment of CS and IG by the Federal government is unconstitutional.
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Naveed Hussain

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is currently confronted with the formidable task of overcoming bureaucratic hurdles that have historically impeded government efforts to reduce the expansive size of the federal government. This obstacle has cast doubts on the effectiveness of the Prime Minister’s approach, especially after disregarding recommendations from two previous austerity committees that he himself established. In response, a third committee, chaired by the finance minister, has been tasked with the responsibility of streamlining the federal government’s structure, offering a glimmer of hope for a more efficient government.

Despite the previous approval by the PTI government’s cabinet to retain 325 federal government entities out of a total of 441, the proposed restructuring plan was never implemented due to the reluctance of the bureaucratic apparatus. However, the potential benefits of this plan, if executed, could be significant. While the current administration theoretically has the authority to execute the previously sanctioned plan, it faces mounting pressure from the media and opposition parties to reduce government spending rather than burdening the public with additional taxes.

The PTI government had approved various significant measures based on recommendations from the Dr. Ishrat Hussain-led Task Force on Institutional Reforms, including the privatization or transfer of 43 government entities to Sarmaya Pakistan Ltd, as well as the transfer of 15 bodies to provincial governments, Islamabad Capital Territory, and Gilgit-Baltistan. Moreover, the PTI cabinet had also sanctioned the reorganization of 17 bodies as training and policy support institutes, dividing the government entities into two broad categories: executive departments and autonomous bodies.

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Despite these comprehensive measures, bureaucratic resistance has stymied the implementation of these reforms, leaving Dr. Ishrat Hussain frustrated due to the lack of political will to execute the approved restructuring plan.

Furthermore, recent statistics have revealed a significant surge in federal employees following the devolution of power. Dr. Ishrat Hussain reported that in 2010-11, the total number of federal employees stood at 829,000 and remained relatively stable until 2016-17 when an abrupt increase of 137,000 new entrants led to a total of 966,000 federal employees. The majority of these new recruits, approximately 85 percent, were in the federal government’s secretariat and attached departments.

Additionally, the last Austerity Committee of the Shehbaz Sharif government, similar to the previous Task Force on reforms by the PTI government, recommended abolishing 71,000 vacant posts older than a year, a measure that was disregarded by both administrations. This scenario further underscores the challenges faced by the current government in implementing substantial reforms.

Evidently, the crux of the issue lies in overcoming bureaucratic reluctance and fostering political will to implement long-overdue measures. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s tenure hinges on his ability to navigate these challenges and effectively streamline the federal government.

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