The government has finalised a civil service reforms package that, on the face of it, lacks material changes in the present obsolete structure and has also shelved the proposal of establishing the new National Executive Service. However, it has included the suggestion of at least 16 years of education for qualifying for the Civil Superior Services. A new Annual Confidential Report system is also being introduced for evaluating civil servants on the basis of attributes of leadership and soft skills. In addition, there is a proposal to form three new civil service groups on energy, legal affairs, and transport and communication.
In a welcome change, the proposed reform seeks to create a selection structure that would allow the government to hire specialised cadres, who would be recruited by sitting for separate, cluster-based examinations for each service group. And to allow the government to recruit top talent, as well as crack down on corruption, it is very rightly being proposed to offer higher salaries for civil service positions. More than the low salaries, however, it is the discretionary powers in the hands of these bureaucrats that tempt them to indulge in corruption. In the absence of an automatic institutional accountability process, this temptation becomes even more persuasive. So, we agree that performance rather than seniority should be made the overriding criterion for promotion.
While welcome, these reforms seem like a mere retouching of a distorted picture. To start with, we need to improve our education standards to ensure that those who sit for the competitive examinations have the required academic background. Being the basic instrument of governance, most failures of the state of Pakistan since its inception, as well as that of our successive governments, can be traced directly to our outdated civil service structure. Instead of serving as the steel framework of a modern independent state, our civil service has remained glued to an archaic legal system. The constitutional job security cover that the civil service had enjoyed until the early 1970s had rendered the officer cadre with immense discretionary powers, immune to accountability, and after they were deprived of this cover, they became even more unaccountable as they sought and got protection under a crass political patronage system. This is what any reform to the civil service needs to address.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2016.