The introduction of the Civil Servants Rules 2020 by the PTI government are a manifestation of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise of bringing reforms in the bureaucracy. Many notable professionals have said for decades that the bureaucratic system in Pakistan is in need of a serious overhaul, in order to make it responsive to the many challenges of governance faced by the country. Advisor to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, Dr Ishrat Hussain, has plenty of ideas on the subject of bringing change in public administration, but political constraints mean that the process may require more time and effort to come in full swing.

New rules hope to ensure that non-performing, complacent civil servants will no longer be protected by guarantee of tenure. While it is important that civil servants are granted constitutional protection against arbitrary political interference, this should not result in absence of accountability. Therefore, a transparent and impartial process for performance evaluation and promotions is absolutely necessary to shed deadweight.

Public administration has experienced significant evolution since the rise of modern bureaucracies in the 1800s. The Pakistani bureaucratic system is still largely working under the old Weberian principles of Traditional Public Administration (TPA). The challenges of globalisation, technology and work environment, development administration, e-government and management of multiple stakeholders cannot be addressed through an outdated approach.

A case could be made for employing the New Public Service (NPS) model, which has proved successful in modern democracies of the developed world. This involves focus on public as “citizens”, who are expected to participate in government and take an active role in the policy process. A collaborative system is put in place as it encourages dialogue and creates shared notions of public interest. Performance and programme budgeting replaces the old line-item budgeting mechanism. All this invariably leads to greater interest in the adoption of private sector practices and values. As guardians of public interest, civil servants must be equipped with resources and motivated to address governance issues; a “barefoot bureaucracy” cannot be expected to fulfil its responsibilities.