With limited exposure, poor promotion structure, three or four lucrative posts in the entire set-up and very few foreign assignments, the officer who is in the service because of socio-economic compulsions, over a period of time, transforms into the exact opposite of how a bureaucrat should be
Public service delivery in Pakistan has never met the required standards of excellence. There are several management course-book explanations for these failures, which include typical malfunctions such as lack of proper goal setting, poor performance measuring tools, procedural complications, lack of connection between remuneration job accomplishments and do-not-want-to-retire syndrome, where officers manipulate to extend their services and do not give others a chance to rise and deliver. This is not a complete list of problems with the civil services but identifies the broad parameters for those who want to correct this system. The Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has recently formulated a body, a very welcome move, to come up with proposals to correct the civil service structure. The competent team will never ignore the fundamental principles of human resource management but there are certain hidden aspects that can only be appreciated by becoming part of the system. And these issues have a direct impact on job satisfaction, performance and public service delivery. I will only highlight a few — usually ignored — points related to the performance deficit of Pakistan’s civil service, with a focus on induction through Central Superior Services (CSS) examinations.
There are two issues at the induction level through CSS examination. Firstly, there is no uniform syllabus for the written examination, for example candidates selecting liberal arts and pure sciences, including mathematics, are in competition with each other. Uniformity of the syllabus can result into accurate assessment of the candidate’s performance. The second problem at the induction level is that candidates do not apply for a specific department. The occupational groups of CSS, with respect to nuisance value and administrative powers, can be divided in to several categories, where the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP), Foreign Services of Pakistan (FSP) and Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS), formerly DMG, and abandoned during the Musharraf regime because of devolution but now flourishing, are considered to be at the top. Almost every potential candidate of the CSS examination, in different order, chooses these three groups as a top priority. However, if the candidate does not succeed in becoming part of these groups he is forced to join an occupational group that was never his desire, for example a person who has visualised himself as a police officer will never be happy in the postal services. If the cadre in which an officer is serving is not his top priority his level of job satisfaction is bound to be extremely low.
If the induction at this level had been on a specialised basis the candidate would never have the option in the first place to join a low-priority group. Because of joblessness and repetitive recessions in Pakistan’s economy, candidates, usually compromising their desired professional priorities, succumb to the charm of job security associated with the civil services. The psychological truth is that the frustration of those officers who have been selected through competitive examination and fail to get their desired occupational group never fades away and keeps boiling into inevitable feelings of frustration, which seriously damages the officers’ mental association and commitment towards their respective assignments, consequently scarring the very purpose of their recruitment, i.e. serving the public.
The second major problem with the civil services of Pakistan is the inter-group ‘caste’ system. Right from the period of the common training programme, the officers, in accordance with their future assignments, are divided into different categories that are as rigid as the Hindu ‘caste’ system. The officers belonging to the ‘superior groups’ demand unconditional respect from the ‘lower-caste’ groups, not to mention that this caste system is attributable to the numerical difference of only a few marks. This is the wrong beginning for any individual to begin a career with unfulfilled hopes, anxiety and the constant depression of being ‘inferior’ to many colleagues who appeared in the same exam and, theoretically, are of equal status.
The frustration level of the officers increases to a maximum when they fall into the occupational group that has lost its utility. The only group that practically falls into this category is the information group that once used to manage the media and has, because of the media revolution in Pakistan, been reduced to the role of coordination between government and the media. Do we need CSP officers for this purpose? The answer is no. This is a double jeopardy situation for an officer who firstly never chose or will ever choose, the information group as his first priority and, secondly, he is tasked to perform a job for which he is over qualified.
This situation gets further annoying when there is no proper grooming and training at the official level except the initial few months of mandatory training, which does not contribute much towards the intellectual growth of an officer. With this limited exposure, poor promotion structure, three or four lucrative posts in the entire set-up and very few foreign assignments, the officer who is in the service because of socio-economic compulsions, otherwise he would have resigned, over a period of time transforms into the exact opposite of how a bureaucrat should be. Many talents of many sharp and intelligent officers have been wasted. There could be better utility of these officers if the group is eliminated and the competent officers remaining can be given a golden handshake and a chance to join one of the upper-caste groups. And if they are given relevant training I am sure that the government of Pakistan as well as the people of Pakistan will benefit from their talents.
The PM has taken a very positive step and I am hopeful that public service delivery will be enhanced in the country. Many talented officers who have not been able to display their talents because of inherent lacunas in the system will rise to contribute their share towards the nation.