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Looking back

Fourteen civil service reform efforts have been made over the last 70 years led by politicians, judges, and foreign consultants

Looking back

Efforts aimed at addressing public sector performance in Pakistan (civil service reforms) have been a recurrent feature since 1947. Such measures have covered a wide array of themes, including system restructuring and institutional change.

It would be interesting to do a quick recap of the efforts that have been made in this regard in Pakistan since 1947. Committee for re-organisation of governmental functions can be termed as the first effort of this nature. It was led by Sir Victor Turner who was the first Central Finance Secretary to the Government of Pakistan. The mandate of this committee was to make workable recommendations about the prevailing size and perceived deficiencies of central government ministries with a view to improve their performance.

The year 1949 saw the presentation of what later came to be known as the Munir Report which basically represented the deliberations of a specially constituted Pay Commission. The task of this commission was to review and make policy recommendations to standardize remuneration for public servants, including leave and pensionary benefits for various cadres.

The 1950s also saw three successive efforts by governments aimed at critically addressing the civil service reform question in Pakistan. In 1952 K.S. Jeffries, an official of the British government treasury was requested by the government of Pakistan to write a paper on Development of Organisation and Methods of Work (O&M) in the Public Sector. This gentleman can be termed as the first ever foreign consultant to work for the Pakistan government.

Next to come was a comprehensive and scathing report by Professor Rowland Egger in 1953 who was a public administration expert from the US. His report came to be known as the Egger Report and included detailed criticism of the administrative machinery in Pakistan, and made several policy recommendations. Yet another consultant from the US, Bernard L Gladieux, was hired by the government of Pakistan in 1955 to take a detailed look at the question of administrative restructuring in Pakistan.

Three more reports poured in during President Ayub’s government in the 1960s. G Ahmed was tasked in 1961 to come up with recommendations covering a wide range of public sector reform issues, including government organisational structures, ministerial procedures and systems and mandated roles of departments and agencies. This was followed by the Shoaib Report in 1962 that was developed by a designated standing committee headed by the then finance minister, M Shoaib.

This report was aimed at reviewing functioning of the federal government in the light of the constitution of 1962. Last in this era was another report undertaken by Justice Fazl-e-Akbar meant to present options for administrative reorganisation.

In 1972 Justice Cornelius was requested to head a committee on re-organisation of public services that came up with a set of recommendations.

The 1973 administrative reforms can be seen as the most potent effort at public sector restructuring.

In 1972 a huge effort was made to revamp the civil services which later came to be known as the Administrative Reforms of 1973. This effort was led by both politicians and senior executives. Bhutto’s reform committee was headed by Khurshid Hasan Meer, a federal minister and included Ghulam Mustafa (federal minister), Faizullah Kundi (Chairman Federal Public Service Commission) as well as Waqar Ahmed then secretary establishment.

The 1973 administrative reforms can be seen as the most potent effort at public sector restructuring. It saw the creation of over a dozen functional cadres of civil services while the premier CSP was abolished. The notion of lateral entry was enshrined in these reforms, constitutional protection was withdrawn while a ruthless purge saw over 1300 civil servants shown the doors on account of various valid and not-so-valid allegations of corruption and inefficiency.

The decade of 1990s also saw some efforts in this area, including Administrative Reform Commission and Good Governance Group (established by then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) as well as Strategy of Improving Governance (by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif). The last two decades seem silent on civil service reforms except the Commission on Government Reforms’ recommendations which were unfurled in the last years of the Musharraf regime.

Read also: The plan is… 

The history of civil service reforms in Pakistan points to some good and some bad news. The good news is, almost everything has been explored in the past: structure, system, political economy, procedures; anything that can make a meaningful change. The bad news is: despite fourteen dedicated reform efforts made over the last 70 years led by politicians, judges, and foreign consultants, civil services are extremely hard to reform.

Syed Rizwan Mehboob

The writer is a retired officer from Pakistan Administrative Services, having worked in federal, provincial and district governments. He can be reached at [email protected]

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