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Delayed civil service reforms

Reforming the civil service is prerequisite for good governance

Delayed civil service reforms

Though reforms of all sorts have become a refrain in political manifestoes of all the political parties, the fundamental civil service reforms are yet to be undertaken. The federal government initiated a process with much fanfare, yet the same has been halted with some superficial changes in the course of CSS exams.

The subject article pertains to two cadres only that is PAS (DMG) and PMS cadres recruited by the federal and provincial governments respectively. The federal government boasts of recruiting the best graduates through the process of competitive exams and invests them with the administrative powers in the centre as well as provinces. The system, however, is inefficient, corrupt and the basis of much that ails the governance in Pakistan. Several reforms have been initiated but they are not implemented owing to lack of will and resistance by the senior PAS officers, who won’t compromise on their undue powers though it comes with a cost to the taxpayers.

The foremost issue is the structural anomaly in form of the apportionment formula 1993, which has been arranged and notified by an interim federal government arbitrarily and in violation of the constitution. Under Article 240(a) and (b), the federal and provincial assemblies have to decide the terms and conditions for their civil servants respectively. Now, going by law, the PAS officers’ very posting to the provinces is negation of federalism and violation of the constitution; let alone earmarking all the senior positions for them, thus undermining the provincial governments and the provincial civil service.

The provincial civil servants across Pakistan run into thousands, yet they are not provided any career prospects since the federal government has arrogated a big share in the provincial civil service for its officers. It is an injustice as the PAS officers are far fewer in number. The promotion of an officer from another province on the seat of some other province is irrational as a vacancy is created and maintained by the provincial exchequer. It has been the matter of contention that had led to several strikes by the provincial civil servants of Punjab and KP, yet the assemblies under the influence of senior PAS officers are dragging their feet.

Civil service is pivot of the district and provincial administration; hence its role as coordinator for all the line departments may be kept intact.

Hence, in order to bring parity and initiate any concrete reforms, the apportionment formula 93 must be struck down and any appropriate arrangement may be decided by the respective provincial assemblies under Article 240(b) of the constitution. Without doing away with the said anomaly, all civil service reforms are subject to failure. The same has been under scrutiny at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, but that too is delaying the same for obvious reasons. In order to ensure a true federation and reform the civil service, the provincial assemblies must assert themselves. Further delay in the same may lead to serious administrative crisis across the provinces.

The recruitment process is not in consonance with the job description. How come we get experts for all the disciplines through testing them in few subjects or for that matter in their English writing skills? We need specialised cadres and specific recruitment tests for them. A person writing an essay on women empowerment or climate change (which probably he/she parroted) is presumed to run the local government, law and order, finance, P&D, Energy and so on and so forth. Such huge portfolio for one cadre of employees is unheard of in any developed country. Besides, emphasis should be more on personality assessment tests. If a person qualifies written exam, no need to take into account his/her marks, rather make it as a yardstick for next round of psychological and personality assessment tests.

For instance, If 600/1200 are the yardstick to qualify, let it be and no need to take into account the additional marks, since there are other areas as well. The personality assessment too may be based on modern assessment tools rather than those typical written psychological tests. Debating the causes of students not able to qualify the competitive exams is ridiculous. The flaw is not with the students rather than the system — especially keeping in view the caliber and productivity of those who qualify these exams!

Next issue of concern is lack of filtering during the career progression of civil servants. The only tool for their promotion is Performance Evaluation Report (PER), which they themselves get filled annually from their bosses and is an outdated and subjective document specifying nothing about the quality and output of the concerned officer. It is rather a document giving leverage to the reporting officer and no one writes anything adverse unless the officer concerned has some personal enmity with the reporting officer. You get a “good” or “excellent” on your PER and will be promoted conveniently to the next grade. From initial to mid-career it somehow works, but for promotion to higher grade i.e BS-18 to BS-19, promotion must be linked to an objective and efficient performance appraisal as well as another competitive exam (both academic and personality assessment) by the public service commissions.

The placement criteria too is not linked to the performance evaluation which is not possible through present system of PER anyway. The criteria are making “courtesy” calls to senior bosses and politicians, and even use money for postings. It has led to a rat race and political interference in the civil service. It is less about career progression and personal growth rather a race to get more perks and privileges. Some justified perks are fine, but if civil servants are bidding for seats placed on auction — since the seats entail a lot of loot money (which is also known as informal revenue to make it palatable in inner circles at least) — it is a serious cause of concern.

The departments related to works and accounts have institutionalised system and a fixed percentage is allotted across the hierarchy from bottom to top, which is not documented. Fata even after all the destruction is still a place to earn millions and officers compete for the postings which are often at auction. The government departments themselves have to pay a fix amount at the office of auditor general to clear their bills. All know the dark facts and are fine with it being rules of the game for this job. A vigorous performance evaluation must be placed and the same may be linked to both promotions and postings.

The system of checks and balances is either inefficient or over-efficient in a sense that E&D rules are placed in the HR system to contain the officers from administrative lapses and initiate inquiries against them accordingly. These rules too need to be updated to plug the loopholes since several clauses either give leverage to the government and some vague areas favour the concerned officers. Besides, NAB, FIA, Ehtesaab Commissions and other institutions too could initiate anything against any civil servant without first invoking the systemic instrument of E&D rules. The systems of checks and balances ought to be rationalised in order to nab the culprits rather than misdirected and counterproductive harassment of officers.

Civil service is pivot of the district and provincial administration; hence its role as coordinator for all the line departments may be kept intact. The lack of coordination is quite visible in the law and order where police has literally detached itself from the district administration thus adversely affecting the overall administration. Besides law and order, police has been trying to encroach upon the domain of civil administration which has affected the system. To begin with, the Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) may be shifted immediately to the Assistant Commissioners instead of police stations as the magistrate is well placed for the job. The police may be bound to report to the elected governments through district administration and coordinate with the civil administration for maintaining the law and order, since law and order comprises much more and policing is one of the components.

Home Department should be the focal point for administering the criminal justice system, thus police may be responsible to the same being a part of the criminal justice system. Restoration of magistracy is need of the time since lack thereof has inter alia led to growth of militancy in various parts of the country. Judiciary’s task is to undo the injustice, whereas it is the duty of civil servants to provide justice. Hence, magistracy should be revived in any form to fill the vacuum and strengthen the civil administration.

The elected local governments must be strengthened and civil servants made accountable to them in every legal respect so as to democratise the administration. There are several other areas which warrant detailed discussion but the aforementioned issues are crucial. Reforming the civil service is prerequisite for good governance.

Fahad Ikram Qazi

One comment

  • Qazi Sb you have very aptly laid bare the major issues ailing the Civil Service not least of which is unjustified disparity among the cadres of provincial and federal services. The constitution of Pakistan empowers the legislatures of respective provinces to regulate the terms of services in connection with the affairs of their respective provinces in pursuance whereof each provincial legislature has enacted “Civil Servant Act”. The Act being substantive law prevails over any of the subordinate legislation whether provincial or federal. The matter is pending adjudication before the Supreme Court from last 7 years. This case entails fundmental rights of thousnads of provincial services officers from accross the Pakistan. The honourable Court should not delay it further.

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