The case for Civil Service Reforms

No subject has attracted more attention in Pakistan than the effective civil service reforms. Though political parties come up with promises to revamp the civil services, yet little has been done in practical terms till today. Introducing reforms aimed at improving the service delivery and meeting the aspirations of people is the need of the hour.

There is no denying the fact that no executive policy, howsoever conscious, stands the chance of achieving its goals unless those responsible for its implementation have the professional capacity, determination and passion to public service.

Governance is a buzzword in today’s world. The governments are voted in and out on the basis of their performance. While rule of law, transparency and accountability are critical to a just society, it is the success or failure of governance which determines the fate of nations, in fact, of the governments.

Governance isn’t a static concept rather its dynamics and evolution are subject to numerous external stimuli. The present epoch in time is marked by greater democratisation and people are now ever-more aware of their rights. Their active participation in statecraft has compelled the governments to formulate effective public policies to meet their aspirations. However, reaping the benefits of democratic governance will remain a far cry unless service delivery and implementation arrangements are made effective.

The second factor, which has increased awareness among masses on effective service delivery as their constitutional right, is the information revolution. The influx of media in Pakistan has given new dynamics to public policy formulation and effective implementation. The acts of the governments are now under constant scrutiny by media which means incessant public pressure to deliver.

With the present bureaucratic arrangements in place, no government can perform well. The public administration experts unanimously opine that the current bureaucratic model is not only anti-development but is also a major hindrance in the continuation of democracy in Pakistan.

Our present bureaucratic setup was established by the British rulers who devised it to strengthen their hold on the natives. With some modifications, the same system is operative here even today. Ironically, the mission statement of this institution hasn’t changed a bit since independence. This depicts why people feel deprived of and alienated from the state. In absence of effective service delivery mechanism, the social contract between the citizens and the state is in doldrums.

Pakistan’s civil service is plagued with many ailments which make the root cause of weak public service delivery, low morale of the civil servants, and rampant corruption. Perverse incentive system marks the functioning of Pakistan bureaucracy. In an article, a renowned columnist Mr Jamil Nasir wrote:

‘There are many reasons for the low performance of the bureaucracy. The first is the perverse incentive system for public sector employees. Civil servants serving in the same grade, with similar qualifications, entering the civil service through the same examination but belonging to different service groups avail vastly different perks and privileges. Those belonging to some service groups are promoted to higher grades much faster than those belonging to others. Civil servants of a few groups get spacious official residences as of right. Those belonging to other groups hardly get enough house rent to hire a reasonable accommodation what to speak of an official house. These differences in terms of promotion and privileges create frustration in those belonging to the deprived service groups. This lowers their morale, impairs their performance and adversely affects their public behaviour.’

 The consideration of merit as a single criterion of appointment is almost non-existent. Political affiliations account for transfers and postings of the civil servants.
  Politicization of bureaucracy is yet another serious issue as it has affected the performance of this institution. The consideration of merit as a single criterion of appointment is almost non-existent. Political affiliations account for transfers and postings of the civil servants. It exhibits why the bureaucrats like to go an extra mile to please the politicians rather than to equip themselves with competence and skills.

Besides, there is a huge difference in remuneration within different cadres of the civil services. Two people entering two different groups, after the same exam and being in the same grade, end up having different salary packages. For example, pay structure of Tax and Customs bureaucracy of FBR is far better than the one earned by people of other services. Likewise, the packages admissible to non-cadre positions in Corporations and Authorities under the federal government are also more attractive than normal BPS-based pays. This discrimination lowers the morale, and opens the doors of corruption.

The system of performance evaluation is too stereotypical to reflect true performance of a civil servant. The PER system is highly subjective and here nature of relations with the boss determines the PER. Competence, general reputation and commitment towards public service are secondary issues in this promotion matrix.

The quality of civil services cannot be improved without eliminating perverse incentive system and politicization of the institution. Efficiency and service delivery must be rewarded through across the board performance evaluation.

This brings us to the need for revising the mission statement of bureaucracy. We need to follow a Malaysian model wherein a complaint from a citizen is considered to be his gift to the state. Professional competence of civil servants needs to be strengthened through reforms in the syllabi of courses taught at all levels. Delay in undertaking these critical reforms can be detrimental to national interests and greater good of the masses.

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