Arresting the Civil Service Decline (Editorial June 2017)

Editorial JWT June 2017

The final result of CSS 2016 has once again reminded us of the urgency to revamp our country’s rotten education system. The result highlighted a painful fact that the FPSC had to choose from amongst only 199 candidates to fill in 351 vacancies in the federal government. Is CSS, which once attracted crème de la crème of the country, attracting brilliant minds anymore? Is it the competition that had been the trademark of FPSC? Let’s explore the answers.

Given the importance of CSS exam as a door to the Civil Service of Pakistan, the catastrophic decline in the competition level of this prestigious exam is agonizing. It seems incredible that in 1990 more than 1000 candidates had vied for 126 posts and that in 2002 nearly 20% of the candidates qualified for the interview — compare it with 2.09% of 2016 — but it’s true.

During the last 4-5 years, an intriguing trend has been on the rise: barring some exceptionally-talented students, almost all graduates of Pakistani universities, especially of those in public sector, lack the talent an aspirant to civil service is supposed to have. It’s because our universities are no more the centres of learning and research; they are just degree-awarding institutions that don’t give a damn to properly assessing the would-be graduates. Isn’t it pathetic that among thousands of aspirants from nearly a hundred public sector universities, none could pass the written exam for CSS 2016?

A rational analysis of the continual decline in CSS suggests that besides the falling educational standards, two other principal causes behind this imbroglio are political interference and flawed service structure. Politicizing bureaucracy has resulted in a situation where even the honourable Supreme Court judges had to observe, in the Panama verdict:

“… [T]he present petitions had been entertained by this Court in the backdrop of an unfortunate refusal/failure on the part of all the relevant institutions in the country… to inquire into or investigate the matter or to refer the matter to the Election Commission of Pakistan against respondent No. 1. [Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif] …”

Civil servants are to serve the state, not some political masters. Quaid-i-Azam had advised the civil servants, “If you want to raise the prestige and greatness of Pakistan you must not fall victim to any pressure, but do your duty as servants of the people and the state, fearlessly and honestly.”

But, unfortunately, contrary to Quaid’s vision, bureaucrats, willingly or unwillingly, serve their political bosses. And, if a civil servant tries to perform his duties as per the law, and doesn’t yield to political pressure, he is either transferred to far-flung areas or is tormented to such an extent that he ultimately surrenders.

And, despite spoiling everything for their political gains, the ruling elite put the whole blame on bureaucracy, and every new ruler warns the bureaucrats to ‘set their direction right’. However, unless bureaucracy is free from the claws of politics, expecting that genuinely-talented, brilliant people will be attracted to civil service is living in a fool’s paradise.
The second factor is the hefty salaries offered in the job market to such brilliant minds. The remunerations they get there are usually far above those offered to the civil servants. Most professionals – engineers doctors, and the likes – who successfully find better opportunities in the job market, would turn away from CSS. Resultantly, we have seen the rise of average-level aspirants getting through the exam. And, result is no competition among – just allocation of –  those who had, somehow, qualified the written part.
Insofar as it can be ascertained, there are only two plausible solutions to the above-stated issues. First, an educational emergency should be declared in the country and radical steps must be introduced for the uplift of education. At a time when there have been growing calls to allocate more GDP to education, Pakistan has made no progress on the issue of literacy and as per the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2016-17 “the literacy rate of the population (10 years and above) remained at 58 percent as compared to previous conducted PSLM Survey.” But, despite that an amount of only Rs. 90,516 million has been allocated to “Education Affairs and Services” for the next fiscal year. The paltry sum allocated to education is nowhere near what is required to provide high-quality education to all. We need to invest more in education because when more highly educated young men and women will be joining the civil service, most of our country’s problems will find long-lasting solutions.

Second is the urgency of making bureaucracy a political-interference-free entity. If we want to attract right persons toward the civil service, the government must ensure that the civil servants are provided an environment where they exploit their skills for the betterment of the people. No political interference should be there in their affairs. The officers must also be paid handsome amounts to eliminate all chances of their involvement in corrupt practices. Merit and only merit in all spheres is justice and that’s what civil service needs the most.

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