Good governance is a key challenge for both developing and developed countries. Governments, today, are confronted with increasingly complex and cross-cutting issues, such as economic and financial volatility, internal and external conflicts, adverse demographic trends, climate change, establishing effective regulatory regimes and bridging huge infrastructure gaps. With a more educated and vocal citizenry, savvy in the use of social media and a highly vigilant mainstream media, public servants are finding themselves under keener public scrutiny. Thus, there is broad agreement among policymakers throughout the world that an efficient and professional civil service is a necessary, though not sufficient, requirement for good governance in any country.
Faced with growing criticism of inefficiency and weakening capacity of public officials, corruption and non-transparent decision-making, governments are pushing the ideas of a ‘lean, efficient and facilitative government’, ‘paperless government’ and ‘practical government’. To cope with modern-day challenges, many countries have reformed their civil service recruitment systems and are on the path of reforming the civil service examination systems to ensure efficiency of the public administration. Some countries have adopted the concept of ‘incorporation’ to foster close public-private sector collaboration in order to transform the civil service into one that promotes competitiveness of the private sector.
Pakistan is facing similar challenges. Major policy shift towards privatisation, deregulation and rapid technological advancements required different sets of skills, expertise, values, attitude and knowledge among public officials. The ubiquitous use of the internet has raised the level of expectations in terms of speed, quality and personalisation of public service delivery. There is intense accountability of policymakers through a vibrant judiciary. Nevertheless, government regulations, processes and the civil service have not kept pace with changing realities, leading to a decline in government effectiveness, rule of law and corruption control.
One of the key instruments for entry-level induction into the civil service is the competitive examination conducted by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). The civil service in Pakistan is essentially based on the philosophy of the amateur (generalist) who is perceived as the gifted layman, moving from job to job within the service, taking a practical view of problems in light of his knowledge and experience of the government machinery. Resultantly, the system is crumbling today and politically incubated bureaucrats are accelerating the process.
The current combined examination for recruitment to the civil servicedoes not factor in the requirement of different aptitudes, knowledge and skill-sets for various occupational groups and services. The mismatch between educational attainment and skills required for specified occupational groups has emerged as a constraining factor in the optimal utilisation of selected human resources. The current grouping of optional subjects has facilitated a large number of candidates into taking so-called scoring combinations in the civil service examination, including subjects like Punjabi, Sindhi, Persian, Arabic, Psychology, Geography, Sociology, History of USA, etc. Most candidates take up Punjabi-Persian, Punjabi-Arabic, Geography-Sociology, Sociology-Psychology and Geography-Psychology combinations. The syllabi of both compulsory and optional subjects were last revised in 1981. Since then, they were never aligned with emerging trends in global politics, geography, innovation, etc.
The FPSC, in 2013, undertook a major study in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission and various universities to revise syllabi of compulsory and optional subjects, to include new disciplines and to tighten the groups of optional subjects to provide a level playing field to all candidates and to neutralise the effect of so-called high-scoring subjects. The recommendations were sent to the Establishment Division in May 2014. It took one year to secure government approval and the FPSC has only now notified the revised syllabi. It has also recommended a study on holding a cluster-based competitive examination or a separate examination for each occupational group and service, as well as holding of a two-stage (screening and main) competitive examination. However, the relevant ministry has been slow in reforming the system.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2015.