Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why Government Is Useless In South Asia

Khilado shares his impression of a typical government office in Pakistan:
You walk inside in the valley of the shadow of askew shelves groaning with files, all askew, stuttering fans stirring up yellowing pages under the light of flickering tube lights. People sit around listless, waiting for the next cup of tea and sms message, disturbed now and than by a visitor who mistakenly wanders in trying to get some work done, and sometimes by a peon shuffling around bulging files, in a endless cycle from desk to desk, sometimes only making the journey to the person sharing the same desk, other times all the way outside the room into an adjoining office.
Replicate this across every office, every ministry, at every level of government, from district to federal, and that's a lot of people sitting around pushing papers from one side of their desk to the other. It's a disease that afflicts every country in South Asia.

I happened to visit one government office in Bangladesh and I was horrified by what I saw: cheap, ramshackle desks, with decrepit plastic phones, no computers whatsoever and the closest thing to modern technology was a single manual typewriter. Files all over the place, and what they contained didn't matter since many haven't been touched in years. And then they were the people: listless, counting the seconds to lunch, then to tea time, and finally to go home.
The whole system would be so much more efficient if they just fired the bureaucracy and let the people who do the work anyways do it. The amazing part is that the system is so broken yet somehow the country still shambles on.
Alas, if it were only that simple. Khalido is right, though, the country shambles on because bulk of the work is done by a few key people. Khalido is also correct that bureaucracies are completely unnecessary. But people must be employed: so, through a system of political patronage, the government gives them meaningless jobs in return for passivity.

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