Enhancing Age Limit for CSS Exam | A Belated Yet Right Decision (Editorial August 2016)

JWT editorial

In the recent months, there prevailed a state of suspense and confusion regarding the question whether maximum age limit for exam to Central Superior Services (CSS) is going to be increased or not. First, numerous ‘over-aged’ aspirants, who could not avail themselves of the opportunities for an illustrious career, saw a ray of hope in a March 2015 ruling by the Chairman Senate, Mian Raza Rabbani, that urged the government to do necessary legislation for increasing the age limit for the CSS exam. But, the clouds of gloom and despair engulfed the prospective aspirants on March 8, 2016, when the Prime Minister disapproved Establishment Division’s proposal for the same. However, on 15th of July, a tweet by the Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, which read, “Cabinet approves increase in upper age limit from 28 to 30 years for CSS exams to benefit youth from backward areas & higher qualification,” turned aspirants’ despair into hope and gloom into a reinforced resolve as they found in it a great opportunity to make their dreams come true. This, indeed, is a wise decision as with this step the government has set the ball rolling to introduce the much-needed civil service reforms.

As per the figures provided in the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015-16, approximately 1.294 million students are enrolled in universities across Pakistan. In all likelihood, a big chunk of this lot will go for CSS because a career in Civil Service of Pakistan means a life of prestige and honour. In order to attract the genuine talent from these university graduates, or more rightly the cream of the country, toward civil service, the government needs to take a number of steps in addition to increasing the upper age limit. First in this series can be increasing the number of attempts an aspirant may have at the exam. India’s Union Public Service Commission conducts one of the world’s largest civil service exams wherein more than two hundred thousand candidates appear every year. An aspirant to Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is permitted as many as six attempts at the examination while for candidates belonging to ‘Other Backward Classes,’ the limit is set at nine. In Pakistan, the maximum number of attempts is only three which needs to be increased so that candidates who fall prey to the ineptitude of an examiner may have a better luck next time. It is especially important in the wake of the substantial revision of syllabus for CSS exam because comprehending the true requirements of the topics contained therein as well as the nature of questions on those will take time.

It is also a growing phenomenon that a number of candidates fail to win allocation in spite of passing the exam; only because fewer vacancies are available. They fell into the abyss of dejection after failing to achieve their dream by a margin of only a few marks. Another prudent step would be to devise such a system which allows these successful yet ‘failed’ candidates to get allocated to various departments. The system of Non-cadre Posts adopted by the Bangladesh Public Service Commission through which successful candidates, who could not win allocation in cadre service, are recommended for recruitment in 1st class non-cadre vacant posts in accordance with the requisitions made by the concerned ministry. This is a good model to emulate as it will prevent the loss of the jewels who are endowed with all the potential to become productive members of the bureaucratic fraternity and who can serve the country to the best of their abilities.

Second is the issue of reforming the existing structure of the civil service. In recent years, there has been a growing number of women getting allocated to groups which require a lot of movement e.g. Police Service of Pakistan, Pakistan Administrative Service, etc. But, the high mobility required by these service groups is often beyond the capacity of women CSPs. Given our societal constraints and social norms, it is very difficult for women officers to go out in the hunt for criminals in the dead of the night; an oft-seen phenomenon in PSP. It doesn’t, at all, mean that we are against providing opportunities to women equal to that to men, yet it is more suitable that women, being naturally good administrators, are allocated to the groups where they can best utilize their potentials and abilities. PAAS, IRS, Information, etc. can be better options for them.

In the end, it is pertinent to say that the government should move forward with its governance — or civil service — reforms with full vigour because this is the only way to make the civil service delivery-oriented and Pakistan, in turn, a true welfare state.

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