Uncertain future for Pakistan’s mammoth civil service as PM’s institutional reform aide quits

Uncertain future for Pakistan’s mammoth civil service as PM’s institutional reform aide quits
Dr. Ishrat Husain giving remarks during a ceremony at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad on December 26, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad)
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Updated 07 August 2021

Uncertain future for Pakistan’s mammoth civil service as PM’s institutional reform aide quits

Uncertain future for Pakistan’s mammoth civil service as PM’s institutional reform aide quits

LAHORE, ISLAMABAD: Questions are mounting over the future of long-due reforms to Pakistan’s sluggish and overstaffed civil service after Dr. Ishrat Hussain, the adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on institutional reforms and austerity, resigned last week.

Hussain faced a mammoth task when appointed in August 2018: To streamline the governance and function of over 4 million civil servants in the country — 1 million in the federal capital and 3 million employed by provincial governments.

During his three years in office, the veteran banker, who earlier served as the dean of the Institute of Business Administration, chief economist at the World Bank and the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, abolished tens of thousands of positions and reduced the number of government entities from 441 to 324 in what he said would cut the “fixed and variable cost of the government.”

He also slimmed down the central bureaucracy, especially the unspecialized civil service, by 71,000 positions.

Last week, Hussain suddenly resigned.

“I wish to confirm that I have submitted my resignation as adviser to the prime minister and requested him to relieve me of my responsibilities with effect from Sept. 1, 2021,” he said in a statement to the media.

“I took up this assignment because I believe in his (the prime minister’s) mission and vision, i.e. improving the governance structure of this country with the aim of bringing about an efficient and equitable economy free from the clutches of elite capture and helping the poor get out of poverty traps,” Hussain said.

He has not disclosed the reasons for his resignation, and despite repeated requests from Arab News, declined further comment on the subject. His resignation letter says he joined the government with the understanding that he would serve for three years and seek retirement once he turned 80, which he did on June 17.

‘Very flawed system’

Pakistan’s bureaucracy is bottom-heavy, with the bulk — 90 percent of employees — serving at grades 1-16 as basic staff, Hussain told Arab News in an interview last month. Only 10 percent are in grades 16-22, which includes specialized officers such as doctors, engineers and accountants.

“We have too many support staff who were being paid more than their counterparts in the private sector,” Hussain said. “Over 85 percent of the wages bill was going to them, while only 15 percent was going to the officers.”

By eliminating unnecessary or redundant positions, the money saved could go toward increasing the salaries of senior officers.

Hussain’s second major task was the quality of officials, for which he designed an evaluation system, whereby civil servants would be graded by an independent board annually and awarded increments and perks in accordance with their performance.

“The present system is completely subjective and very flawed,” he said.

“We have a completely new performance system. Those who perform will get twice the increment, while those below average will not get any increment. It has been approved by the Cabinet. We are now working on a pilot basis in some ministries.”

Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, the deputy commissioner in the Paksitani capital of Islamabad, said Hussain’s policies had made a difference.

“Training institutes have been made important and independent like the ones in the military,” he told Arab News. “Those heading these institutes have no agenda and are not political appointees.”

Political non-interference possible?

All political parties that have ruled Pakistan have been accused of routinely shuffling and transferring senior bureaucrats, bringing in the men and women they like and sacking those they do not.

In its 2018 election manifesto, the ruling-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party promised a merit-based system in the civil service, where the “right officer” would be assigned to the “right job without any political consideration.” But political interference in any bureaucracy is inevitable, said Dr. Umair Javed, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, who was part of the civil service task force established by Prime Minister Khan.

“Bureaucracy cannot exist as unaccountable bodies, and politicians are the last stage of accountability. So, to suggest that they will be completely free from political interference is not possible,” Javed told Arab News.

“If you ask me personally, the task of civil service reform should not be with any commission but with the parliament. The parliament should deliberate on it. You can bring in a task force of expertise to help. But the competent body for this is the parliament.”

While some proposals pitched by Hussain have found an audience, others have faced resistance from the government that appointed him, including reforming the provincial bureaucracy.

“They (chief ministers of the provinces) said the federal task force I headed should not interfere in provincial matters,” Hussain said. “I said fine, you carry out your own reforms.”

But for Javed, reforming the provincial bureaucracy should be the top priority. “If there is any future to reforming the civil service, then that lies in the provinces, and it should be the focus,” he said. “The more you strengthen the provincial bureaucracy, the more it will help the common man more.”

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UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households

UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households
Updated 28 October 2021

UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households

UK study finds vaccinated people easily transmit Delta variant in households
LONDON: The Delta coronavirus variant can transmit easily from vaccinated people to their household contacts, a British study found on Thursday, although contacts were less likely to get infected if they were vaccinated themselves.
The Imperial College London study illustrates how the highly transmissible Delta variant can spread even in a vaccinated population.
The researchers underlined that did not weaken the argument for vaccination as the best way of reducing serious illness from COVID-19 and said booster shots were required.
They found infections in the vaccinated cleared more quickly, but the peak viral load remained similar to the unvaccinated.
“By carrying out repeated and frequent sampling from contacts of COVID-19 cases, we found that vaccinated people can contract and pass on infection within households, including to vaccinated household members,” Dr. Anika Singanayagam, co-lead author of the study, said.
“Our findings provide important insights into... why the Delta variant is continuing to cause high COVID-19 case numbers around the world, even in countries with high vaccination rates.”
The study, which enrolled 621 participants, found that of 205 household contacts of people with Delta COVID-19 infection, 38 percent of household contacts who were unvaccinated went on to test positive, compared to 25 percent of vaccinated contacts.
Vaccinated contacts who tested positive for COVID-19 on average had received their shots longer ago than those who tested negative, which the authors said was evidence of waning immunity and supported the need for booster shots.
Imperial epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said that the transmissibility of Delta meant that it was unlikely Britain would reach “herd immunity” for long.
“That may happen in the next few weeks: if the epidemic’s current transmission peaks and then starts declining, we have by definition in some sense reached herd immunity, but it is not going to be a permanent thing,” he told reporters.
“Immunity wanes over time, it is imperfect, so you still get transmission happening, and that is why the booster program is so important.”

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
Updated 28 October 2021

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
  • Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory
  • Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into World War II, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians

THESSALONIKI, Greece: Fighter jets flew over the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki Thursday as parachutists landed and troops marched in the city’s center to mark a national holiday commemorating Greece’s defiance of Fascist Italy that forced it to enter World War II.
But some student parades traditionally held in municipalities across Greece were canceled, especially in northern areas which have seen a spike in coronavirus infections, fueled by low vaccination rates in those areas.
Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory and take control of parts of it.
Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into the war, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians only to be overwhelmed months later by a separate German invasion.
“The anniversary of ‘No’ is a day of honor and pride for our nation,” President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said, adding that the country’s actions in 1940 “remind us of everything we can achieve when we are united.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who attended a student parade in a southern suburb of Athens, said the day honored “those who fought against fascism and the conqueror.”
“Today we have the right to look to the future with more confidence and more optimism,” he said, adding that Greece was now stronger both geopolitically and economically.
“I wish and hope we can move forward in this future with the unity the times demand and always have the discretion to tell the difference between the useful ‘yes’ and the necessary ‘no’.”
Last year’s parades were canceled as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. This year, most were allowed to go ahead, although Thessaloniki’s military parade was somewhat pared down, with only military, fire service and security forces parading without the participation of many of the civic groups and associations that traditionally take part. Participants and spectators alike were asked to wear masks.
But several municipalities and regions across northern Greece canceled parades by schoolchildren amid spiking coronavirus cases.
Just over 61 percent of Greece’s population of around 11 million has been fully vaccinated, and only slightly more — just under 64 percent — has received at least one dose. The country has been seeing increasing coronavirus infections, particularly in the north, with intensive care units beginning to fill up.
New infections are over 3,000 per day with dozens of deaths, and ICUs set aside for COVID-19 patients in the country are now at an average 77 percent capacity. On Wednesday, Greece reported 63 deaths and 3,651 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total death toll to 15,770 since the start of the pandemic, with 728,210 confirmed cases.


Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
Updated 28 October 2021

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
  • David Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would ‘open a can of worms’
  • The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings

LONDON: The businessman who organized the 2019 flight that killed Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala was Thursday found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.
David Henderson, 67, was convicted by a majority verdict of 10 to two over the death of the 28-year-old forward by a jury at Cardiff Crown Court.
The plane carrying Sala crashed into the English Channel on January 21, 2019, killing him and pilot David Ibbotson, 59.
Sala had signed for Cardiff City, who were then in the Premier League, for a club-record £15 million (18 million euros, $20 million) from French side Nantes.
It took the jury seven-and-a-half hours to convict Henderson, the aircraft operator, whom the trial heard had arranged the flight with football agent William “Willie” McKay.
He had asked Ibbotson to fly the plane as he was away on holiday with his wife in Paris.
Ibbotson, who regularly flew for Henderson, did not hold a commercial pilot’s license, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.
The jury heard how just moments after finding out the plane had gone down, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would “open a can of worms.”
The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings.
Prosecutor Martin Goudie said Henderson had been “reckless or negligent” in the way he operated the plane, putting his business above the safety of passengers.
In his closing speech, he claimed Henderson ran an “incompetent, undocumented and dishonest organization.”
Stephen Spence, defending, said his client’s actions were “purely a paperwork issue” and had not led to a likelihood of danger.
He told the court the only difference between a commercial license and the private license held by Ibbotson was whether you could carry passengers for money or not, and not about ability.
Henderson had already admitted a separate offense of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorization.
The judge granted Henderson bail to return to be sentenced for both offenses on November 12.
He faces maximum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for endangering the aircraft and two years for the lesser charge.
A British air accident investigation report published in March last year concluded Ibbotson was not licensed to fly the plane or to fly at night.
It assessed that he lost control and flew too fast as he tried to avoid bad weather, and that both he and Sala were affected by carbon monoxide poisoning before the crash.
Sala’s body was recovered from the seabed in February 2019 but that of Ibbotson was never found.
Two months after Sala’s body was discovered, his father, Horacio Sala, died of a heart attack in Argentina.


UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
Updated 28 October 2021

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
  • Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future
  • UN's trade and development agency said a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis

GENEVA: The United Nations on Thursday called for nations at the upcoming COP26 climate change summit to increase funding for developing countries to adapt.
Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future.
The approach is crucial in developing countries, which are more vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change — floods, drought, heatwaves and wildfires, for example.
The UN’s trade and development agency said Thursday that a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis, with a focus on helping poorer countries adapt to changing weather.
“Climate change has no borders. So our strategy to adapt to it must be globally coordinated,” UNCTAD chief Rebeca Grynspan told reporters.
“Aligning ambition and action will require... a concerted effort at the multilateral level to ensure adequate funding for developing countries to adapt to the worsening impact of ever-increasing climate change events.”
The cost of adapting to climate change in developing nations could reach $300 billion in 2030 and, if mitigation targets are not met, up to $500 billion in 2050, said UNCTAD.
However, current funding levels are less than a quarter of the amount envisaged for 2030, and the report warns that relying on private finance will not serve the countries that need it most.
UNCTAD called for debt relief and restructuring for developing countries and for increased availability of capital for multilateral development banks.
UN economists have said that this capital could be financed by green bonds or by reallocating subsidies from fossil fuels.
According to the UN, the economic losses from climate disasters are proportionally three times worse in developing states than in high-income countries.
The landmark COP26 climate change conference kicking off Sunday in Glasgow is being billed as the best chance to reverse catastrophic climate change before it’s too late.


Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
Updated 28 October 2021

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
  • ‘Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned’

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei: Myanmar remains an “integral part” of Southeast Asia’s regional bloc, member Brunei insisted Thursday, despite the coup-hit country boycotting annual talks in protest at a ban on its junta chief.
The crisis in Myanmar, which is still in chaos following February’s military takeover and subsequent deadly crackdown, dominated this week’s virtual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The bloc decided to exclude junta chief Min Aung Hlaing after his regime refused to allow ASEAN’s special envoy to meet ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
It was an unprecedented snub from an organization long accused of being toothless, and infuriated the junta — which rejected an invite to send a senior official to the meeting in his place.
ASEAN is facing calls to go further by suspending or even expelling Myanmar but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, the summit host, instead sought to ease tensions.
“Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned,” he told a press conference.
“ASEAN will always be there for Myanmar.”
However, he added that the 10-member group hopes “Myanmar will return to normalcy, in accordance with the will of its people.”
Saifuddin Abdullah, the foreign minister of member state Malaysia, hinted the junta could be barred from further meetings of the bloc.
Asked if Myanmar will join future talks, he responded: “That is a million dollar question which I cannot answer now.”
“We would want to look at the implementation of the ‘five-point consensus’,” he added, referring to a roadmap to restore peace drawn up by ASEAN.
The bloc appointed its special envoy for Myanmar, Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, in August after months of wrangling.
But he is yet to visit the country after the regime’s refusal to allow him to meet Suu Kyi, who is facing a raft of charges in a junta court and could be jailed for decades.