The Prime Minister this week awarded certificates to various top performing ministers and division heads, based on a list of 1,090 targets of which 424 were to be achieved this year (including 207 related to governance and 100 to infrastructure). The effort was put together by Special Advisor to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Establishment Arbab Shahzad. The employees of the top 10 ministries, as well as those ministries whose marks fell in the next percentile, were granted several months’ worth of bonus salaries.
Reportedly, the key performance indices (KPI) were mostly set by the ministries themselves. While no further details of targets and performance criteria were made available, it seems that the yardstick was based on percentages, with the top ten percent chosen for accolades. During the awards ceremony, the prime minister narrated a story about how his teacher in school would read aloud the marks obtained by every student to dent the self-esteem of those who did not work hard enough to get good marks. It is not clear if it was a good idea to apply this strategy to ministers of a country of 225 million people.
Several of the almost 40 ministers, advisors and special assistants who did not make it to the ‘dream team’ were fuming with anger, disillusionment and perhaps a bit of jealousy, terming the criteria unfair and arbitrary. Interestingly, none of the ministers from allied parties (except the illustrious Sheikh Rashid) made the cut either.
It is near impossible to measure the performance of different ministries, each of which performs a different function, against the same yardstick. As an example, a ‘brick and mortar’ achievement (which can be easily displayed and measured) cannot be compared to a ‘social development’ task (which could take years to complete). Imagine trying to evolve a standard yardstick to measure the taste of an apple, a mango, a pomegranate, a banana, a tomato, a potato, a walnut, a peanut, etc.
Pitching ministers and officers against one another in a classroom-style show of conscience may shake the harmony needed to keep the enthusiasm of government officials alive.
Performance reviews and awards are not a new idea in the Pakistani government. The first such effort was made by former PM Nawaz Sharif in 1998 to evaluate the National Agenda. A National Agenda Monitoring Cell was established in the prime minister’s secretariat and a team of experts was assembled from all over the country to monitor the National Agenda’s progress. The effort was discontinued when Gen (r) Musharraf took over in October 1999.
A more comprehensive effort was made by Chief Minister (CM) Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, when he established a CM’s Monitoring and Implementation Cell immediately upon taking office in July 2008. Once again, a team of experts from all over Pakistan was put together and a comprehensive plan was designed based on political vision and focused research. The idea was to inspire the provincial bureaucracy to move files while also offer a helping hand getting actual tasks implemented. The initiative was kept low key and each department was assessed on its specific performance yardstick. The CM would address performance issues with the ministers and secretaries privately. This cell in the CM’s secretariat worked very successfully up until 2012.
Based on his experience as the Chairman of the PM’s National Agenda Monitoring Cell as well as the CM’s Monitoring and Implementation Cell, the author of this article has been advocating for the need to institutionalize the performance assessments of the ministries and divisions.
If the Prime Minister really wishes to advance the idea of performance assessments, he needs to institutionalize the process within the Planning Division (not Establishment, where he has it housed currently). It is the planning ministry which is (or is supposed to be) the custodian of a comprehensive plan that intertwines all ministries to work towards the vision of the government. Hence, the planning minister needs to be given this task. Additionally, the Prime Minister must understand that each ministry needs to be assessed on its own merits or demerits. It is unreasonable to try to develop a standard yardstick to equitably measure the weight, time, effort, or efficiency of different ministries. Finally, the Prime Minister must respect his ministers and officers, and must discuss his satisfaction or otherwise with them privately. Pitching them against one another in a classroom-style show of conscience may shake the harmony needed to keep the enthusiasm of government officials alive.
Performance assessments can be used as a tool to keep ministers and officers cognizant of the fact that their efforts are being monitored. However, this should be an endeavour that generates collaboration, rather than competition. In terms of governance, it is quality, not quantity, that matters. We must, therefore, use the stick of monitoring along with the carrot of handholding to make the government run.
The author is a governance and economic expert, former advisor to Prime Minister and Chief Minister Punjab, a Fellow Chartered Accountant from England, and the Chairman of Pakistan Freedom Movement