Adopting bottoms-up approach
In Pakistan, are the positions of patwari, station house officer (SHO), nurse, and a school teacher viewed with the same respect as that of their senior counterparts in higher grades of bureaucracy? Do they perform any less of a task, or are they not important in the dispensation of their public service or do their basic pay scales and grade determine their standing within the larger dynamics of the bureaucratic discourse? These same ‘junior bureaucrats’ are many times seen as corrupt, inefficient and hostile towards public. The state is seen as an increasingly unresponsive parent towards public needs and its capacity to deliver services such as public education, which is virtually on the verge of being abandoned. Is this trend reversible? The reasons for such perpetual decline are multifold yet the focus is never on the neglected cadres existing between grades 1-16, which constitute more than 80% of the government workforce in the entire Punjab province.
The recent study on “Improving Governance: Reforming Provincial Civil Services in Punjab”, conducted by Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG) at Forman Christian College contends that the opportunity exists if the reform efforts focus on junior cadres holding pivotal and powerful positions such as of patwari, station house officer (SHO), nurse or a school teacher, as these are the first respondents and their actions and responses manifest the ‘face of the state’.
The study propounds that the lower cadre recruitment, career planning and capacity buildings have not as yet received the attention they merit and that improving governance entails eliminating the existing trust deficit between the citizens and the state. As a possible solution the study offers a bottoms-up approach to understand their process of recruitment, explore ways to enhance their skills and professional competence, and find ways to improve performance and capacity to deliver services of the lower cadre. In recruitment important findings across the school education department revealed that the focus was on quantity rather than quality of teacher recruits hence lack of qualified staff, poor human resource management, political interference during recruitment, poor work place environment and low levels of motivation were seen as common denominators during the study.
Even though recruitment of teachers through District Recruitment Committee and Punjab Public Service Commission was recognised as credible and merit driven yet many claimed that the process is far from being free from political meddling. Ironically a mismatch between recruitment policies and their implementation practices seems to exist. An example from the field experience showed that in a remote public sector school an MPhil graduate was working at BPS 9 as a primary school teacher while the minimum qualification was BSc or BEd. Many teachers with MPhil degrees were recruited at that grade and remained disgruntled about pay and performance.
The study also found that no concept of uniformed career planning prevailed amongst the service structure for the junior cadre between Basic Pay Scale 5-16. The delay in promotion to the higher grade and non-payment of postgraduate allowance was hampering both career and education prospects. Many of the focus group discussion had a common theme of using protest as a tool to voice their concerns and demand upgradation in their service, yet fulfilment of teachers’ demands was seen as a far cry in many cases. On promotion a primary school teacher of BPS 9, who had been serving in the same scale for 18 years, stated: “There is no timescale or structure through which our promotion can take place. Upgradation primarily only happens on the demand of the union.”
Like earlier civil service reform policies, the Promotion Policy 2010 again focused primarily on the higher cadres (BPS 17 and above) while the lower cadres remained neglected. In the education department, lack of motivation due to uncertain career progression, lack of basic infrastructural facilities, limited access to libraries, books, low budget for the sector, assigning duties besides teaching, and political inference did not help in uplifting self-esteem among the teachers. Despite being better paid than their private counterparts, the teachers remain demotivated. A government officer who was interviewed said: “The teachers lack self-motivation to work.”
Decline in respect of a public school teacher was also seen as a major hurdle in the service delivery. This cultural decline gains further prominence as private sector education takes over and many opt for the latter. The study recommends that recruitment policies either need to be drafted in a manner so that they are either commensurate with their qualification or the recruits are rewarded with a respectable pay scale/grade. Furthermore, that recruitment and selection should be competitive, open and merit based so that the initial flaw of political meddling is eroded.
The members of the recruitment committee should not only comprise of civil servants but also external parties such specialist, academics in their fields to inculcate transparency, diversity and neutrality in selection process. The overall concept of training ought to be imparting leadership skills and persona of a teacher to encompass that of a leader. The lower cadre that represents a large share in Punjab needs to be made part of the policies in order to reform governance as it is only once this realisation sinks within the government that the public service delivery and governance can be improved. It is true that without political will and leadership that supports merit, transparency and accountability, any reforms will only operate in vacuum.