Home / Opinion / Playing the Devil’s Advocate | Hassam Khan

Playing the Devil’s Advocate | Hassam Khan

The Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) has been under recurring fire from all ‘hopefuls’ aspiring to join the government service. It is constantly criticised for ‘unfair’ assessment of applicants, which are conducted predominantly through written competitive examinations and interviews. Such charges are accompanied by allegations of corruption, incompetence, nepotism and thus, failure to exercise proper merit. For those who are unaware, the FPSC is an autonomous statutory body which administers the recruitment of fresh talent and human resource to the federal government for employment in BS-16 and above. In other words, the commission is the leading public HR organisation that specialises in the provision of quality — the ‘notorious bureaucrats’ — to the state machinery that manages the affairs of government. It is perhaps best identified with conducting the annual CSS competitive examination.

Before we begin, take a note of the widely held notions. Logic 1: The FPSC is corrupt. Corruption leads to incompetence. Therefore, the FPSC is incompetent. Logic 2: The FPSC is incompetent. Incompetence leads to the death of merit. Therefore, the FPSC kills merit… or many other adjectives to describe the sorry state of affairs. While this logic makes sense, it is utterly unfair to the FPSC. And while the premise may validate its conclusion, it is more important to question the ‘truth’ of the premise itself. Admittedly, there are flaws in the methods of recruitment but it is equally important to give the devil his due. The onus of such ‘incompetence’ does not entirely lie on the FPSC but stems from other ‘significant’ factors — conveniently downplayed and left out — which bear on the quality of its operations.

Acknowledging the efforts for reforms is perhaps the least one can cede to the commission. A glance into the reform initiatives indicate appreciation of organisational inadequacies by the FPSC internally and reflect on its efforts for their resolution — the efforts of which many deny the existence. These administrative problems range from the long delays in handling of individual cases to the assessment of examination scripts, from the dilapidated conditions of examination centres to the publication of final merit lists, from minimum qualifications to age criteria and so on. The FPSC has also been subjected to immense criticism for being unable to assess ‘rightly’ the eligibility of candidates. You guessed it right. Such criticisms are hurled mostly by those who end up unsuccessful in the course of selection. You can’t blame them for objecting to such ‘unfair’ treatment. Perhaps it is right to blame the FPSC for being thorough, no? One wonders if their thoughts on the matter would be different had the results turned out differently.

The FPSC can only table the proposals for reform, leaving them at the discretion of political whim. It has done that many times over, only for these proposed reforms to gather dust in the establishment division. Moreover, the FPSC is led by seasoned bureaucrats, who having a keen knowledge of the problems within and beyond any political control, invest their efforts in taking corrective measures. It has also been facing financial constraints but continues to provide services to the best of its abilities, despite the lack of resources. But never mind that. It’s okay to blame it for following procedure. It’s okay to blame it for not revising examination fee. Let’s blame it for choosing the best ‘few’ in the interest of our country. Let’s blame it for the prevailing political lethargy, which is actually responsible for the progressive decline of its service quality. After all, we have to blame the FPSC for everything. The problem is more political than organisational. The FPSC cannot be blamed for the inadequacies and incompetence of the politicians. The screening test for CSS is a case in point, which would effectively have led to the screening of serious candidates for the process. That alone would have helped address the better part of the problem of delay in the process.

But no, we didn’t like that either. We protested; we detested the notion of making the system better, more transparent and ‘fairer’. Our own outcry led to the disapproval of something that was meant to be of service to the very candidates who venture for a race to the civil service.

Perhaps we should take time off from besmirching an organisation of known integrity, and figure what it is we actually want. We disapprove of inaction but we also disapprove of reforms. Furthermore, it would also help to address our own shortcomings than to criticise others for our failures. Thank God we’ve spared the FPSC the blame for the mediocrity of our schooling system.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2016.


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