- More than the tweets about his work, what made Shafqaat noticeable to me was his promptness of response to queries and issues posted by tweeters living in Islamabad and elsewhere.
- It is also his unwavering, good-humoured composure to maintain graciousness that was an oddity in the age where even official accounts of state organisations function with a limited quota of patience, using the block option to mute anyone who dares to cross an invisible line.
It all started with one officer: my interest in the work of Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) officers. My Twitter following–the ones I follow–didn’t have any PAS officers; there was nothing about their work that I found interesting. That is not to undermine the work they do, but to me it was all indexed in their institutional responsibilities. Focusing on politicians who I thought were trying to change the system, uneasily existing within its age-old narratives and demarcations, I had little awareness of another group of people whose very job designation has the service of public as its raison d’etre: police and PAS officers. That changed when I had a virtual interaction with Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat.
Beyond the official prominence and self-created importance of civil servants all around me, there was rarely ever an officer who I thought was making a conscious effort to not just do their job well but to do much more than what their job entailed. Deputy Commissioner Shafqaat on Twitter made me aware of how little I knew of PAS officers.
More than the tweets about his work, what made Shafqaat noticeable to me was his promptness of response to queries and issues posted by tweeters living in Islamabad and elsewhere. It is also his unwavering, good-humoured composure to maintain graciousness that was an oddity in the age where even official accounts of state organisations function with a limited quota of patience, using the block option to mute anyone who dares to cross an invisible line. Shafqaat’s responses may not win him the Mr Congeniality award from chronic naysayers, but there aren’t many on Twitter who could say that Shafqaat is inaccessible. Shafqaat and a few others like him are smashing the stereotype of a civil servant, one initiative, one tweet at a time.
From taking care of law and order during TLP’s 2018 Faizabad protest to checking on an unhappy bear at the Islamabad Zoo, there is not much that Shafqaat does not pay attention to when approached on Twitter. From Twitter to his office, Shafqaat is the face of that new batch of PAS officers who have redefined the idea of working for state to serve the people of the state.
One of my favourite people on Twitter, I noticed Shafqaat doing things that showcased his consistent concern for people. I thought I’d ask him about some of the initiatives he had taken that enhanced his work beyond the lines drawn in official portfolios. He sent me a series of responses. I find Shafqaat’s work truly impressive for one simple reason: Shafqaat’s professional credo is inspirational.
In his own words, here is the last couple of years of Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat’s work:
“I did my CSS in 2005. My schooling was in Cadet College, Hassan Abdal, I studied computer system engineering at Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute, and I did my MPhil in public policy from National Defence University, Islamabad. I also did two courses on wastewater management and innovation in public service from Malaysia and Turkey.
“My father was in police, and ergo my inclination towards civil service. My first posting was in interior Sindh for three years as assistant commissioner in Larkana, Sukkur and Gothki. After my promotion I came to Islamabad where I worked as additional deputy commissioner, director municipal administration, deputy secretary establishment division, and currently, as deputy commissioner.
“Among the several initiatives that are on my ideas, the first one is the price control initiative: an app via which essential commodities sold on government-fixed prices are home delivered. The idea behind the app was to cut the middlemen and reduce the price for customers. An item being sold in market for Rs 200 is delivered through the app for Rs 105. The app is successful in Islamabad. The prime minister also likes this idea, and he may have the app replicated in the whole of Pakistan.
“Another initiative is the formation of executive centres to spare complainants of inconvenience of waiting at my office or that of any land-related official like a patwari. Complaints are entered in a computer, and documents are submitted. If the complaint has an immediate solution, such as acquiring of a domicile, licence, declaration or NOC, it receives immediate attention. If a longer procedure is required, within a few days the matter is resolved. The interaction with officials has decreased. Also, one-window operation for rural areas is available in some areas of Islamabad.
“We also worked on the Clean Green Pakistan, which was the prime minister’s idea. To plant one million trees in Islamabad, we had universities, madrassas, schools, and private housing societies working together. This year the goal is to plant two million trees without any financial assistance from government.
“Under the panagah initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, we are running five shelters in Islamabad. So far, 550,000 people have slept or eaten there. No government funds are being used. What we utilise: a few abandoned state buildings, and donations of some charity organisations, private companies and philanthropists.
“The youth engagement programme was another one of my ideas. Noticing prevalence of drug use in a large number of the youth of Islamabad, we targeted drug mafias to eliminate the supply of drugs. To check the demand the youth was engaged. Firstly, a voluntary all-city task force of fifteen hundred people was formed; these young people work with us on various programmes. With students from state-run and private schools, we started our first internship programme. Now they do their internship, observe how government offices work, and give us ideas. We learn from them, and they learn from us.
“Prisoners from the Adiala Jail come to Islamabad for their court hearings. For an overnight stay, they were kept in a state-run bakshi khana, which was in a very dilapidated condition. Without using any government money, I convinced private donors, had a meeting with the bakshi khana visitors, and turned it into an excellent facility. Equipped with new washrooms, fans and carpeting, and provision of food and water, now the prisoners staying in the bakshi khana don’t feel as if they are locked up in dungeons. Prisoners need to be treated like human beings. Among them are under-trial prisoners.
“Another initiative that I took: use private schools, after their school hours, with their permission, as non-formal evening schools. With PAGE and four other organisations, we have started three hundred schools in Islamabad for underprivileged children.
“The ICT app will be launched next month. It is a one-stop facility for all government related services: water, birth and death registration, municipal issues, acquiring of a domicile or licence, etc.
“Another of my initiatives is depositing of the car-token tax through an online transaction. Since government didn’t have funds to spare, we asked the National Bank to sign an MOU with us. With Rs 10 for each transaction, this facility is available in all branches of the National Bank. Now in Islamabad and Peshawar region, anyone can deposit the tax in the National Bank, and also from anywhere in the world. Within two-three months this app will be available. The next step is to have this facility on other banking apps.
“My strength are the technological interventions that I’ve made, benefiting from my computer engineering background. The one major thing would have to be that through the use of technology, there has been a marked improvement in all my work and governance.
“On social media, my presence was more than that of any civil servant, but my goal was never self-promotion. My aim was and is to have direct feedback from people. Through my interaction with people on Twitter and Facebook, I hear their issues and take various requisite steps. This is beyond my official work.”
A recent example is the proposal of banning sugary, fizzy drinks in school cafeterias. After a Twitter poll, in which twenty thousand people endorsed the ban, we plan to implement it. Various big and small initiatives have been taken after suggestions from social media users. A much-needed one was development of rural areas. Not part of my official work, but I convinced MNAs to work on that, and for the first time, focusing on SDGs of UNDP, 60-crore projects on education, poverty alleviation, and environment improvement have been initiated.
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“The purpose of my daily Twitter engagement is to give timely information about my work.
I think that direct honest feedback only comes through Twitter. Complainants in my office don’t tell the truth. They need me so whatever I say they nod their head. My staff doesn’t give all the facts either. Direct feedback is possible through Twitter, and not from newspapers or television.
“None of this is part of my official responsibilities. My basic work is implementation of law and order. All these programmes are for improvement in the lives of people who trust us to work for them. I do what I do because it is my passion.”
Here is to Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat, one more PAS officer who is showing thorough his invaluable work that change is not just a six-letter word. It is a dream. And it is achievable.