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Proposed Civil Service Reforms (Editorial May 2019)

Proposed Civil Service Reforms (Editorial May 2019)

A step in the right direction, but prudence is needed

he matter of civil service reforms is again the talk of the town. Some informed insiders have confirmed to this publication that the government intends to thoroughly overhaul the civil service structure. It is because there is a strong perception – and perhaps a perfectly justified one – that the current bureaucratic setup is in a stalemate. Since the bureaucrats are the people who run the engine of the government, the stagnation, therefore, adversely impacts the overall development prospects of the country. The PTI-led government believes that the outdated methods of policymaking, inordinate delays in making decisions, red-tapism and, above all, undue political interference have rotten the Civil Service of Pakistan to the core, and to wriggle the country out of this quagmire necessitates substantial reforms to its basic structure. The matter has been of so pressing importance to Prime Minister Imran Khan that only a few days after assuming office, he constituted the Task Force on Civil Service Reforms, which brought noted personalities like Dr Shahid Kardar, Dr Sania Nishtar, Mr Suleiman Ghani, Dr Nadeem-ul-Haq, Mr Salman Akram Raja, et al., with former Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Dr Ishrat Husain, as its head. It was tasked to find ways of turning the civil service into a competent, delivery-oriented outfit so that the PTI’s promise of making a Naya Pakistan is translated into a tangible reality. As per media reports, Dr Ishrat Husain-led Task Force has finalized proposals that will be presented to the cabinet for further deliberations. And, if these are approved, the existing CSS examination system will be wrapped up.

There is no blinking at the fact that Pakistan is facing numerous daunting challenges on internal as well as external front. And given the fact that these challenges have only mounted to become more complex and grave during the past seventy-one years, surgery of the extant system is inevitable if those are to be tackled effectively. But, this requires a more specialised bureaucracy, staffed with professionals at the helm. And, for this, almost all experts and analysts, as well as political parties have been clamouring for since long. Even the governments have persistently vowed to reform the country’s civil service but nothing tangible has been achieved yet. For instance, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, in his broadcast to the nation on 23 August 1973 observed: “The scientific and technological revolution that has taken place in the twentieth century must be internalized and harnessed for the rapid economic development of the people and the country … To an ever-increasing extent, therefore, the government will rely upon an effective corps of technical experts [and] the new service structure will enable the government to gain the full contributions of scientists, engineers, doctors, economists, accountants, statisticians and other professionals in policymaking, management and administration.”

But, that promise remained unfulfilled.

Dr Ishrat Husain himself has been an ardent supporter of a specialised civil service structure and he has pleaded his viewpoint before successive governments since the Musharraf regime. In May 2018, Ahsan Iqbal, the then Federal Minister for Planning and Reform, approved a summary to the PM’s Office demanding a more specialised civil service and specifically requested that an occupational group for engineers be created. And, in his latest proposal, Dr Ishrat Husain has again proposed that instead of the present CSS exam system – the first step of inducting the civil servants – be changed. He has suggested that instead of one general examination for all cadres and services, a cluster-based examination should be conducted wherein the candidates with specialized qualification will be encouraged to join the specialized streams.

This is precisely what we, from the pages of this magazine, have been persistently advocating for. In an article titled “Reforming the Civil Services,” this mag while censuring the so-called “scoring trend” argued that this makes candidates having medical or engineering or other professional degrees choose such subjects they had not studied during their academic years. The scribe argued: “The newly-recruited officers are imparted training through Common Training Programme (CTP) and Specialized Training Programme (STP) spanning only some months. Then, how a specialized study of 2-4 years can be substituted by this limited training? Isn’t it the sheer wastage of precious talent and energy of such professionals? What a candidate having an MBBS degree on his credit has to do with Persian or Arabic? It’s a glaring reality that an MBBS would give his best in health department and a master’s in International Relations would be brilliant while engaging in diplomatic activities; and so on.”

JWT strongly supports thorough reforms in the civil service system. But, while deciding on the matter, the policymakers must take into consideration one thing: the future of the candidates who aspire to take CSS exam in next two, three years. It is a known reality that CSS is a tough exam and preparing for it is not a matter of days or weeks; it takes months of hard work and extensive study to be able to get through it. Usually, the Federal Public Service Commission conducts CSS exam in February each year. And, since May has already started, it means aspirants have only 8-9 months to study which is never an ample time. Moreover, the air of uncertainty prevailing among them would also make them jittery, thus limiting the chances of making sound preparations for the exam.

Keeping in view all these issues, we strongly recommend that if any changes are to be brought, they must be made effective from CSS 2021 and even later, if possible. Any haste would be detrimental not only to the candidates but also to the prestige of this important exam.

Prudence and pragmatism must reign supreme.

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