Pakistan’s civil service has undergone a gradual process of institutional decay in the last 60 years. Perhaps the single most important factor in the process has been a sharp decline in the intellectual caliber of the civil servants. This has been primarily caused by the virtual collapse of academic standards at colleges and universities from where prospective candidates for the civil service entrance examination are drawn and the institutional failure to provide them with high quality in-service training.

To make matters worse, unlike the 1950s and 1960s, the civil service career no longer retains the fame and glamour it used to have during the early two decades of independence. Most of the promising and talented youth head towards foreign countries now to seek a better future.

Having entered the civil service, the moderately educated (barring few with meritorious educational standards) young officers face a future in which there is an absence of rigorous formal training to equip them professionally sound at each stage of their careers for the tasks they are supposed to perform. There are three types of institutions which purport to provide a semblance of ‘training’ to the civil servant: The Pakistan Academy for Administrative Training which organizes courses for each crop of fresh entrants to the civil service; the National Institute of Management (NIM) which runs courses for officers at the middle stage of their careers (deputy secretary level), and the Pakistan Administrative Staff College (PASC) which imparts training to senior officers, federal joint secretaries and heads of departments. In all three categories of institutions, there is a virtual need of a high-quality faculty. At present, the reliance is placed almost exclusively on invited speakers who lecture and then leave.

Arbitrary interventions of political factions at different points in the political power structure and interference by vested interests out side the civil service, in a wide range of decisions whether it is transfers, promotions and dismissals of officers or judicial decisions by district commissioners on land disputes and right up to the issues of the arrest of drug barons or approval of major projects, has greatly undermined the integrity of institutional decision making. This has resulted in increasing insecurity, corruption and on occasions demoralization of civil service officers.

The Government is planning reforms, but they will fail since they seek to cater to personal and political interests, superseding merit. India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and other former British dominions have adopted reforms that assure representation to backward regions without undermining the basic principle of merit. The next round of reforms should emphasize merit rather than quotas, which remain open to abuse.

These all reforms if brought in with out ensuring safeguard; freedom and just accountability would be flimsy and shall definitely prove futile.