The country is on the verge of bankruptcy if it’s not bankrupt already, as declared by Shabbar Zaidi, one of the top economic experts and former chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue. National borrowing has touched new levels, leaving every individual heavily under debt. Imagine, the burden of loan, every citizen, irrespective of age and gender, had to bear stood at Rs1,44,000 in 2018. It has now shot up to Rs2,35,000 within three years. What are the black holes gobbling up the loans and throttling the national economy? Our economy is in such a crisis that we even welcomed a $3 billion loan from Saudi Arabia for one year and that too on four per cent interest. One of the conditions of the loan is bizarre at best. This amount is not to be invested. It’s only meant to help stabilise the foreign exchange reserves to enable Pakistan to negotiate more loans from international lending agencies. The holy land dishing out a loan to a brother Muslim country on interest is mindboggling by itself. If a recipient country were to invest the borrowed amount, earn a profit on it, and return the loaned amount along with interest, it would sound logical. But restricting to keep the loaned amount in the bank and paying four per cent interest on it only amounts to penalising the recipient country. What has pushed us into such a pathetic economic state is the enormous size of the government and its bureaucracy. To trim the bloated bureaucracy, a commission could be set up to suggest which government departments needed to be slashed. The enormity of the government, compared with the minuscule size of the economy of this poor country, is the first thing that thinking individuals, especially the taxpayers, observe. Overstaffing plagues every government department. Besides, new departments and so-called ‘authorities’ with novel names keep emerging every now and then. Many departments are created not so much in the public interest as to accommodate the burgeoning bureaucracy. Typically, consider the Punjab Agriculture and Food Authority (PAFDA) structure near Thokar Niaz Beg on the Multan road. The nine-storey building covers 3,20,000 sqft and is located on 64 kanals of land. The market value of the land alone is not less than Rs20million per kanal. The complex is touted to carry out research in the fields of agriculture, food and drugs. When I tried to multiply Rs20 million with 64 kanals to calculate the overall price of the land allocated for the project, my little calculator went haywire. Try yours if you will. What type of research the agriculture department carries out is a mystery. On the boundaries of the fields having healthy crops, the minions of the agriculture department put up large boards announcing how the crops grew under the guidance of field staff of the department. And if you ask the owners of the farms whether they received any such guidance from the department, they would show complete ignorance. Another research complex, which many think is a white elephant, is located on Ferozepur Road in Lahore. The Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research spread over hundreds of kanals is supposed to research the industrial sector. Findings of the ‘dedicated’ research are supposed to be passed on to interested entrepreneurs to promote industrial growth in the country. How much research the scientists and PhD doctors of PCSIR have carried out since the research complex was established, the taxpayers may never know. But what’s glaringly visible on the ground are the residential colonies under the name of ‘PCSIR Societies’ in various expensive sectors of the city. It’s indeed alarming how we seek foreign loans to run the economy when blatant waste of financial resources continues unabated. The district, which has been a basic administrative unit since the days of British rule, now has more officials posted in various departments than needed. What essentially is the function of a commissioner in a civil division? All he does is collect information and reports from the deputy commissioners under him and submit them to the chief secretary when asked for. It’s a radical idea though but the slot of the commissioner could be done away with, including other such gubernatorial offices. To trim the bloated bureaucracy, a commission could be set up to suggest which government departments were overstaffed and needed to be slashed. It’s imprudent to employ three working hands when only one could do the job. It’s attributed to Henry David Thoreau who said, “The best government is that which governs least.” Shabbar Zaidi would be the right choice to head the commission to advise how to run a small and efficient bureaucracy, thus, saving billions of public money. The writer is a Lahore-based columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.