Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recipe to reform the country’s civil service structure has generated more doubts than hopes. The man the prime minister has chosen to get the job done, Dr Ishrat Hussain, has treaded the same path over and over again in the past. He was assigned to reform the bureaucracy by Pervez Musharraf about 12 years ago and then by ex-premier Nawaz Sharif in 2015.
The present exercise seems familiar to the one undertaken by the previous government that appointed Punjabi bureaucrats to create a ‘loyalty cadre’ for Raiwind, according to experts.
Following Nawaz Sharif, the present government is replacing Punjabi bureaucrats with Pashtun officers at the Centre, senior bureaucrats tell TNS on condition of anonymity. Presently, the old guards, mostly belonging to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are occupying key positions, they say.
Around 45 senior most officers who were once close to Sharifs have been appointed officers on special duty (OSD). With all these problems, it appears, bureaucracy is utterly chaotic. “The government has yet to realise that there’s no substitute for experience,” a sitting secretary writes to TNS.
Senior civil servants have shown resentment at a time when over 70 senior officers are being investigated either by the National Accountability Bureau or Federal Investigation Agency. They are allegedly involved in corrupt practices and misuse of their position.
The concern was conveyed to Prime Minister Imran Khan during his interaction with the civil servants. A majority of the civil servants were pinning hopes on Khan but they seem to have become skeptical after the formation of the task force.
Raza Rumi, Editor Daily Times, says the real challenge for the government will be to build a political consensus as the federal and provincial bureaucracies are interlinked. “The resistance within bureaucracy is a challenge to be addressed. In earlier efforts, elite bureaucrats have cleverly sidetracked or reversed changes and for that intra-bureaucracy dialogue is important. The civil servants must not feel demoralised or pressurised.”
There are many agents of change within the system, he adds and continues, “They need to be identified and should lead this process under the supervision of the political leadership.”
He thinks many reform efforts have failed across the world due to lack of political engagement. “That needs to be avoided.”
M. Ziauddin, senior journalist, observes that it is not going to be easy. “Our education system has gone down seriously. Meanwhile, the market picks up the best by offering lucrative salaries. What is left is of poor quality.”
He advocates strict a accountability process and a scientific performance evaluation. “It should not depend on human judgment. Whistle-blower law must be introduced.”
Haroon Tareen, a recently retired federal secretary, believes the formation of the task force is not going to make a real difference. “The chairman and most members of the task force are in their early 70s and belong to DMG/PAS, a service group that has benefitted the most from the status quo. Their absolute grip on power depends on protecting the existing system.”
Dr Ishrat Hussain, Chairman of Task Force on Civil Service Reforms and former DMG officer, has twice before presented his proposals on the subject to the Musharraf government and to the PML-N government which were not considered worth implementing. “Reform requires the ability to challenge the status quo and knowledge of current international best practices. Unfortunately, none of the members of the task force qualify on this criterion. The remaining ten service groups, who are much bigger stakeholders in the reform exercise, have either no or nominal representation,” adds Tareen.
Internationally, he says, such reforms involve brainstorming sessions, seminars, data collection through various sources, predictive analysis, etc.
Dr Ishrat Hussain tells TNS that he is meeting civil servants and other stakeholders for this purpose. “The task force has started consultations with service groups, cadres and ex-cadre officers of the federal and provincial governments.”
Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, another recently retired grade 22 officer, says the Federal Public Service Commission needs massive reforms in the structure and methods of examination. “The establishment division is almost reduced to a post office and has no role in career planning with the right man for the right job.”
“Powerful groups in civil service are either not governed by any rules or make and break the rules in their favour. They get postings and promotions at the cost of legitimate contenders belonging to weaker groups. One prominent example is that federal civil servants are promoted against the quota in Balochistan but are never ready to serve there and get adjusted in Punjab,” says Ahmad. Hierarchy is often violated and juniors who serve better at the beck and call of their political patrons are preferred over competent, honest and straightforward seniors.
Akhtar Hassan Khan Gorchani, former Director General Intelligence Bureau, says, “Hegemony of Punjabi officers is to be checked by ensuring strict adherence to provincial and regional quota system. There’s also a need to be soft on maximum age limit.”
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“The task force is going to deliver a blueprint to transform Pakistan’s civil services by ensuring tenure protection and an accountability mechanism to improve credibility, in order to attract and retain the best talent in the country,” reads a government document.
Informed officials tell TNS that the task force is studying reforms brought about by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, General Zia’s law of induction of military officers in the civil services and Musharraf’s Local Government Ordinance 2001 and Police Ordinance, 2002 which are said to be the most sweeping reforms introduced in Pakistan since 1973.