Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Civil service reforms needed

Published May 21, 2013 08:35am

GEORGE Bernard Shaw said, “I am afraid we must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy.” The same can be said in light of last week’s elections.

Civil servants are of the essence in terms of fair elections. In an article published in this space last week, the very experienced former civil servant Kunwar Idris said that “woefully, the standards both of personal ethics and commitment to a code of conduct among officials have been steadily declining because the principle of merit has been progressively abandoned in their recruitment, placement and promotion”.

I would like to take the argument to the next level and propose an out-of-the-box solution to inculcate institutional integrity in the civil service. But before that, a brief history of the politicisation of Pakistan’s civil service.

From 1947 to 1971 the civilian bureaucracy was largely independent and the politicians had hardly any influence. The constitutions of 1956, 1962 and the interim constitution of 1972 provided safeguards for civil servants against dismissals, demotions or compulsory retirements on political or nepotistic grounds. The bureaucracy, particularly the elite Civil Service of Pakistan, maintained its integrity and institutional autonomy by virtue of reasonable control over the selection, training and posting of its members.

The downfall of Ayub Khan and the rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, however, gave the political class an opportunity to assert its power. Once the eastern half of the country seceded, the military and the civil bureaucracy were left severely discredited. The former managed to hold its own owing to the nature of the institution, but the structure of the civil bureaucracy was turned upside down.

Bhutto decided to redress the power imbalance between the elected and unelected institutions of the state by withdrawing constitutional protections for civil servants in the 1973 Constitution. The seeds of political influence in the functioning of the permanent executive of the country were sown and political manipulation became a norm.

The civil bureaucracy became even more complacent when, instead of rebuilding the system, subsequent military regimes eroded it further through measures such as large-scale inductions from the military and showed a general distrust for civil servants. Over time, bureaucrats lost the plot altogether and became the most obedient servants of the rulers or rulers-in-waiting instead of the state; they became puppets in the hands of the rulers, military and political.

Can the problem now be reversed? The best bet under the present circumstances would be to provide the civil service with a nucleus — a godfather, so to speak — that each pillar pivotal to the governance of the state of Pakistan already has.

The Pakistan Army as an institution always has a patron in the form of the army chief. The office of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan has seen a meteoric rise in stature and this ascent has been institutional rather than on an individual level.

The political executive and legislature is on track and towering leaders will emerge in due course. The media, by virtue of matchless influence in forming public opinion, is its own godfather. This leaves the civil service as practically the only institution that lacks direction and strength of purpose. The only way to provide the requisite strength to this pillar of state is by allowing for a ‘chief’ of the civil service. The incumbent to such office would be appointed for a fixed term protected by the Constitution, neither extendable nor terminable.

The establishment division of the cabinet secretariat might claim to be performing a similar function already, but events such as someone as senior as the establishment secretary being made ‘officer on special deputation’ overnight or succumbing to political pressures to allow illegal inductions in the civil service leave little merit to that claim.

With a chief of the civil services, nobody — not even the sitting prime minister or one in waiting — would be able to influence him for administrative matters such as appointments, transfers, postings and recruitments. This would provide unflinching resolve for civil servants in taking decisions without pressure.

But there’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip, one being the requirement of a constitutional amendment for the setting-up of such an office. All the political parties promised change in the build-up to the elections; the question is, once in the driver’s seat will they remain committed to real change or settle on a cosmetic one? Also, can an opposition that promises to be real push through some real change?

Such measures, being far from public focus, might not bring new votes and would actually block the way of bogus ones. Yet they would be the vanguard of the real change people so richly deserve for showing their faith in democracy by coming out to vote. The suggested change in the structure of the civil service is akin to keeping an endangered species in protective custody until it’s strong enough to survive in the wild: there’s no doubt that the ‘most obedient servant of the state’ is an endangered species.

The writer is a civil servant.

Comments (22) Closed

May 22, 2013 01:50am
What about Islamic Civil Bureaucracy of Khulfaay Rashideen.
May 22, 2013 02:41am
In Pakistan, the civil servants corrupted the politicians by letting them know THE tactics. As soon, the minister takes charge of his/her portfolio, the experienced baboos swarm them with their shrewd advices. I don't want to be a devil's advocate by telling you that the politicians were na
Agha Ata (USA)
May 21, 2013 06:30pm
Can you name a single service, organization or a department where reform is NOT needed?
May 22, 2013 02:53am
What a badly written article. This person is a civil servant -- apparently merit had little to do with his/her selection. The political influence in the Civil Service began with the induction of Ghulam Muhammad as GG, and continued with Ayub Khan and his famous relationship with Gauhar Ayub and Qudratullah Shahab.
May 21, 2013 05:24pm
Where from will you bring such politicians as they have? Do you think with a weak bureaucracy and strong corrupt politicians, we'll improve. Naive
May 21, 2013 06:44pm
Impractical. Subjective 'nucleus' , 'godfather'. Simple give constitutional protection it was there before 1973 why the ''service'' performed well
May 21, 2013 06:54pm
Before Ayub Khan the Public Service Commission was managed by a chairman, who had the sole power to run the selection process. The decay started when Ayub Khan started firing in bulk just because of personal disliking or not being ' obedient " enough. Then Mr. Bhutto also maintained the same policy. As a result the test results were doctored and the sub-standard CSP and PFS officers started taking over. The result was obvious in foreign missions and key positions of the government. It is about time the selection system / process should be debated in the parliament, objections and opinion should be taken from public and academics. Quotas and recommendations should be against the law. Results of the tests should be published in news paper as before. I have seen cases when a candidate showed up for final interview, only because his father was a four star general or the president had ordered his appointment. This practice still exists and has come to a point of epidemic during PPP administration.
Dr Saeed
May 21, 2013 04:48pm
Nothing can be more idiotic than comparing civil service with the other state pillars . Not many common people are intrested in knowing as to who civil servant is actually. A civil servant is the one who has a self inflated ego and who thinks that people around him have nothing else but to think about them all the time.This is not the case infact.The columnist probably being a retired civil servant is ignoring the very fact that civil services is not just one service or group.It infact is the amalgamation of different cadres many of them involved in tug of war, pitched against each other owing to their vested interest.For instance, two of the most powerful service/groups viz Police Service of Pakistan and the District managemnt group (renamed PAS probably in the remembrance of erstwhile CSP ,a dead horse) are at loggerheads to impose and prove their supremacy at the distrcit level.Many a times common people suffer only because of the conflicting personalities of DPO and the DCO at the district level.similarly the newly formed inland revenue service has only given impression that the income tax group has encroached upon the customs and excise group leaveing the members of the later group only to regret on their decision to join the group.Thus ,my point is that civil servants should only stick to what they have rather than becoming over ambitious like other institutions of the state .
May 21, 2013 10:33am
We should have to copy the British type of Civil Bureaucracy, which is prevailing nowadays there. Powerful Bureaucracy means more corruption. Instead we have to weaken the Civil Service so that to serve the modern democratic culture. Politician should be strong enough......
Raja Islam
May 21, 2013 02:21pm
Another viewpoint may be to abolish the CSS cadre and move to a skills based system. Take the example of a doctor wanting to join the Police or Customs; this is clearly not to serve humanity. CSS being a general exam encourages this kind of behavior and fosters corruption. Business majors should be appointed in Trade, Commerce, Finance and Economic Affairs ministries. Engineers in Communication and Works. Lawyers in the Law Ministry and so on and so forth. Having Doctors working as magistrates and engineers as district administrators does not make sense.
May 21, 2013 02:08pm
Performance related merit should however be transparently assessed by a neutral agency. Age/seniority as the sole measure to assess fitness for promotion seems irrational.
Ar Naqvi
May 21, 2013 05:51am
double like
May 21, 2013 08:48am
The Civil Service should have its own trade union which protects it from unfair professional or personal pressure by Politicians. Promotions, transfers, rewards and disciplinary actions should be regulated transparently via mechanisms which cannot be influenced by the whims of any individual or group of political masters. An independent grievance procedure should be put in place. Civil servants should be supported in resisting pressure from vested interests.
May 21, 2013 08:41am
A really unpractical idea! And facts are not correct: Civil servants of 1950s and 1960s were not independent and neutral. In the 1950s, Ch.Rehmat Ali and Ghulam Muhammad. And the civil servants became junior partners of Ayub regime. 1973 Civil Service reforms were meant to subordinate role of the civil servants to political authority ,but nationalization program, ended up expanding their domain and powers.
May 21, 2013 04:31am
Who would appoint this "Chief"? I fear that the process would be similar to the one in vogue regarding appointments in higher grades i.e. no appointment without political backing. The writer has correctly pointed out that inductions have eroded merit and reduced opportunities for career advancement. But what would be the solution to it? Also, has the writer not thought about the lacunae that exist in the very structure of the bureaucracy? (the dominance of a certain occupational groups which create a bottle neck for officers from other groups). There are many problems that the Civil Service is facing these days- I wish that this institution would get its act together for the service of the Federation.
Imtiaz Piracha
May 21, 2013 07:52am
I often wonder how was the function of civil services performed for centuries, before the British colonial rulers introduced the existing system in the Subcontinent, which is essentially alien and oriented toward foreign rulers rather than the welbeing of the local masses. After all, powerful rulers reigned over India who were not as poverty stricken as the governments today. Justice was dispensed, taxes collected, huge armies raised, roads and postal systems were in place among other development and architectural projects executed; much before the British and telecommunications arrived. Maybe we have overlooked more efficient and tested indigenous administrative systems in our obsession with the ICS and the CSS?
Jalbani Baloch
May 21, 2013 07:35am
The writer has correctly pointed out that Civil Bureaucracy in Pakistan has been politicized, and it is now more loyal to the politicians than to the state. This process of politication of civil bureaucracy starts with the rising of civilian rule of Bhutto in Pakistan, after the downfall of Gen. Yahya Khan and secession of east Pakistan. This means that all ills start with the inception of civilian rule in Pakistan. Taking the view of writer, Pakistan was ruled by most innocent, competent, honest and upright class of people that included civil bureaucracy and military rulers. In fact, these two classes were the sole master of Pakistan and did not allow the civil society to flourish and flutter. The ruled the country for more than 23 years without any permanent code of conduct and constitution, and as a result, the country was divided into two parts, but to see their crookedness, they put the blame of civilian ruler Mr. Bhutto for the separation of east Pakistan. These two classes were in hand to hand in looting the country without being checked. However, with the advent of Civilian Government, the bureaucracy was made accountable to the people, because it was a government by the people for the people. Politicians are one of the factors, but there are other actors in polluting the bureaucracy e.g. civil society, military and politicians.
May 21, 2013 08:18am
nice article,unveiling truth with factual past.overall all nice work
zia bugvi
May 21, 2013 08:21am
i think that would be quite pertinent for bureaucracy to have its own chief otherwise the institution would always be subjected to political manipulation and intigues
May 21, 2013 10:32am
Having a Chief is a good idea and has been discussed amongst civil servants for a long time. To say that it just the politicization of the bureaucracy that has resulted in the rot would not be a correct assessment. It starts with the hiring, the basic structure of bureaucracy and the pay structure, all need complete overhaul.During the time of Ismail Qureishi as Secretary Establishment a presentation was made to the then PM Gilani wherein in was indicated that the salaries of civil servants are far less than those in the private sector. That's why more and more seats are left vacant in the competitive exams. In some cases, the difference between private sector and similar grades in the civil service was over 500%. Civil Servants would themselves have to take the lead. Private sector good practices have to be adopted, promotion have to be merit based and not just on seniority.
May 22, 2013 09:22am
politicization of civil servants in one thing and politicization of civil service is absolutely another. I think you missed that point
May 22, 2013 10:57am
just a general anecdotal article. no practical solution, new chief of civil servants, what the chief secretaries are doing then? the writer says .."With a chief of the civil services, nobody

Must read