Civil service refers to the body of government officials who are employed in civil occupations that are neither political nor judicial. A well-functioning civil service helps foster good policymaking, effective service delivery, accountability and responsibility in utilizing public resources which are the characteristics of good governance. The importance of the civil service to governance stems from the service’s presence throughout the country and its strong binding character, administrative and managerial capacity of the services, effective policymaking and regulation, effective coordination between institutions of governance, leadership at different levels of administration, service delivery at the cutting-edge level and providing ‘continuity and change’ to the administration. The civil service, as the primary arm of government, must keep pace with the changing times in order to meet the aspirations of the people.
A competent, effective and neutral civil service is the backbone of a country’s governance structure. Countries that do not have an organized civil service system are at a relative disadvantage in executing their programmes and policies. The civil service in Pakistan suffers from a variety of weaknesses including poor training and morale and needs to be reorganized. Public servants have invariably become an instrument in the hands of ministers and other government high-ups. Ethical considerations inherent in public behaviour have become generally dim and, in many cases, beyond the mental grasp of many public functionaries. The desire for self-preservation guides their actions and behaviours. So, there is a dire need to devise some policies to retrieve the situation because the falling standards of civil service hugely impact Pakistan’s poor, thus widening social and economic divisions between the privileged and the underprivileged.
Civil bureaucracy of Pakistan has its origins in the Indian Civil Services (ICS) which Pakistan inherited at the time of independence. ICS was formed on the recommendations of Aitcheson Commission set up in 1866. The ICS cadre became the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP), with minor modifications. Since disparity amongst various cadre and ex-cadre jobs leads to demoralization, therefore Pakistan’s Administrative Reforms of 1973 abolished all classes among the civil servants, merged all services and cadres into a single unified graded structure and prohibited the use of “service” labels. The three unified grades were created under the new rules (framed on the basis of Civil Servants Act, 1973) which continue till this day, namely All Pakistan Unified Grades (APUG, Federal Unified Grades (FUG) and Ex-Cadre Officers (BPS-17) and above. The subordinate staff (BS-l to BS-16) is largely ministry/division/department specific with the exception of Subordinate Accounts Service (SAS) personnel who are routinely posted across ministries/divisions/ departments.
As a whole in Pakistan, civil servants have a feeling that they are underpaid, overworked, demoralized and stressed individuals. It is the need of the hour to stem the wave of brain drain from the country and it can be done by, besides alleviating above-mentioned problems, eliminating political interference in bureaucracy. Civil servants are poorly trained, sub-optimally utilized, badly motivated and ingrained with attitudes of indifference, arrogance and apathy.
Governance deficit in Pakistan has degenerated into a malaise whose cure should be of most urgent concern to the government. Pakistani state can no longer afford to dwell in past. Restructuring of civil services is required to convert it into a dynamic and vibrant institution whose members have capacity and competence and show qualities of courage and compassion. The key to long-term development lies in strengthening the institutions of governance of which civil service is the most crucial one.
With citizens increasingly affected by conflict and militancy, including millions displaced by fighting in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the government’s ability to ensure law and order and provide services such as education and healthcare will be vital to winning the hearts and minds of the public, and reviving links between the citizen and the state. And, this objective can be achieved only if the bureaucracy performs its due constitutional role.
So, the government of Pakistan should work to enhance civil servants’ performance and to revive a spirit of public service by increasing salaries and pensions, particularly for those at the bottom of the hierarchy, providing better housing, transport and health insurance for all government employees, and subsidised schooling for their children, conducting regular training, including refresher courses, at all levels of the bureaucracy. The government should improve the standards of instruction at training institutions to inculcate professional skills as well as norms and practices that reward integrity and professional commitment and provide competitive compensation and benefits to attract qualified and motivated instructors.
Government should also ensure linking an officer’s performance during training programmes with promotions, thus no longer using successful completion as the only yardstick and also ensure establishing and strictly abiding by new criteria for secretariat appointments to include professional expertise, diversity of experience, demonstrable leadership in public institutions, and ability to tackle challenging assignments. The opportunities provided by e-government also have not yet been fully realized to improve the access of common man to public servants.
This makes it inevitable that the government reforms are comprehensive, concurrent and coordinated as partial, isolated and will not produce the synergy required to achieve the desired results.
International community too can help improve governance by supporting civil service reform, expanding training programmes, and providing technological support and expertise to modernise methods of administration.
The writer is a civil servant.