Riaz Khan

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his address to civil officers in Peshawar in April 1948, said “that Prime Ministers come and go, but you stay on”. They have stayed, but as “your obedient servant” and as a self-serving bureaucracy. No government military or civilian has been able to break the steel frame of the civil servants especially the domination of the District Management Group (DMG) now further exalted to the status of Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS). Most of the reforms have only tinkered with the civil service.

In Pakistan the service reforms need to address the issue of interference of higher levels of governments in lower levels of governments, generalisation of civil service, politicisation, non-merit based recruitment, delays in recruitment leading to large number of vacancies, frequent postings and transfers, out of turn promotions, seniority system giving rise to lack of competition, domination by PAS, below market compensation, misuse of perks and allowances, posting of inept officers in poor and far flung areas as punishment, lack of disciplinary action and above all corruption.

Of the many recommendations in the last report prepared in 2008 by National Commission on Government Reforms led by Dr Ishrat Hussain only three might come close to making a minor dent: (i) Separate cadre of regular Civil Services at the Federal, Provincial and District levels co-existing with contractual appointments and lateral movement (ii) Creation of a National Executive Service (NES) for senior management positions open to all Federal, Provincial and district Civil Servants through a competitive process and (iii) induction of three specialised cadres under the NES for Economic Management, Social Sector Management, and General. Most of the solutions presented in the other 38 reports since 1947 also focus on superficial changes.

PTI, with its old school of thought, traditional approach and biased composition of the task force on Civil Service Reforms, is now embarking on the same old trodden road. The task force led by Dr Isharat will most probably endorse his earlier status quo oriented recommendations. What is needed is the melting of the steel frame in a furnace, demolishing old structures and creating the foundations of a new civil service capable of withstanding the pressures and serving Pakistan.

A new radical approach is proposed as service reforms have failed worldwide and especially in Pakistan. The problem in the past has been the inability to deal with the complexity of the service and proposing changes within the existing legal framework. Nobody, except a few “Baboos” understand the system. The “Estacode” is over 1500 pages while just the “Travelling Allowance Rules” are over 100 pages. The only way to move forward is to repeal all previous laws, rules, regulations, agreements and notifications and promulgate a new Act while saving the rules for the transition period. Amending the existing plethora of laws is an impossible task.

Designing the civil service afresh with a new slate will provide greater flexibility. It will allow the Government to initiate “meritocratic reform” similar to the one carried out in the 1960’s by the Singapore Government. Civil servants with a proven record of competence were retained while those found incompetent were weeded out. Margaret Thatcher reduced the size of the civil service from 732,000 to 594,000. The DMG being generalists will find no place in the new technically and professionally driven service. A diluted version could be to accommodate all civil servants according to their preferences. Only a decentralised post based technical civil service, the parameters of which are listed below can meet the desired objectives.

To avoid interference and ensure accountability each level of Government will have its own civil service. Each level will be responsible for its own recruitment, pay scale, pension, postings, transfers, promotions, training and disciplinary action. Movement of civil servants through notifications will be abolished as vacant posts would be filled through a competitive process.

The service will have technical cadre based on the technical Ministries, Departments, Offices i.e. Health, Education, IT, Commerce, Police, Revenue, Agriculture, Finance, Accounts, IT, Human Resource and Audit etc. The generalist cadre of DMG will be abolished.

To ensure merit based recruitment a Public Service Commission will have to be established at Federal level, in each provincial government and district. To avoid delays in recruitment, managing the recruitment process shall be the responsibility of the human resource section of the concerned Ministry, Department or office. The Commission will only be responsible to review the recruitment process and give approval for the selected candidates. Appointing authority will be the nominated officer.

To protect the tenure and ensure productivity of the staff, the appointment of civil servants shall be on a permanent basis to a post unless the post is abolished or the contract is terminated on performance, corruption, misconduct, or other grounds.

To be competitive with the private sector and encourage bright candidates the salary package would be at par with the private sector. A much higher pay scale level will be required for posts in remote and difficult areas or for highly specialised post. This will make hardship posts more attractive and will avoid posting officers to remote areas as a punishment.

To ensure healthy competition within the service, initially a post will be advertised internally within the government and in case it is not filled then it will be advertised externally. This will provide lateral input into the service. A post based system will put an end to the problems of politicisation, promotions and frequent postings and transfers as a vacancy will only be filled through competition.

Performance Evaluation will be undertaken yearly which will include input from the direct reporting officer and staff reporting to the post. Promotion will not be a right. Civil servants will have to apply to a higher post to be promoted. It will not be seniority based. Annual salary increment will be based on performance.

Although the suggested reforms are radical in nature but if communicated and managed properly it can be accomplished harmoniously. However, even the best system cannot withstand the might of the politicians and bureaucracy when they are in cahoots.

 

n            The writer is a former Member of the National Reconstruction Bureau.