Analysis: Promotion dilemma of bureaucracy

Published June 4, 2015
An analysis of the officers holding key positions in the country shows low representation of the less populous provinces.—Creative Commons
An analysis of the officers holding key positions in the country shows low representation of the less populous provinces.—Creative Commons

SHOULD promotions at the top level of the bureaucracy be entirely on merit, or should the quota system be invoked here too, as it is at the time of appointment to public service, to rationalise a balance between the provinces?

While the prime minister and the establishment division deny any preferential treatment, an analysis of the officers holding key positions in the country shows low representation of the less populous provinces.

A list of the federal secretaries updated by the establishment division (until last Friday) shows that of the 39 most senior officers running various divisions at the federal level, 26 secretaries are from Punjab.  Khyber Pakhtunkhwa follows with seven secretaries. A senior official of the establishment division confirmed that three federal secretaries are from Sindh while Gilgit-Baltistan has one secretary at the federal level. Balochistan has only an acting secretary of grade 21.

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At the provincial level, the two senior-most officers in Balochistan are ‘outsiders.’ Balochistan chief secretary Saifullah Chattha and inspector general of the police Muhammad Amlaish Khan are both from Punjab. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, too, the police force is headed by an officer from Punjab, IGP Nasir Durrani. Several national organisations such as the National Highways Authority and the National Highways and Motorways police are also headed by officers from Punjab.

Calls have recently been made that a policy be devised for fresh promotions, so that fair chances can be provided to officers from all four provinces. The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Shah, has also voiced concern, saying that the promotion criteria were not helping officers of the less populous provinces reach top grades. The prime minister reassured him saying that “merit will be the sole criterion for promotions and there will be no injustice to any individual”.

The promotion policy, last modified on Feb 10, 2014, does not mention the provincial background or domicile of the person.

But officials who were involved in the process said that the Central Selection Board (CSB), which recommended the promotion of around 150 officers to grades 20 and 21 during its recent meeting, discriminated.

“The target was not to pick from a certain province, not even those who support the ruling PML-N, but to select a group of officers liked by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his handpicked senior bureaucrats,” said a senior officer who was a candidate for promotion to grade 21. This official alleged that the merit for promotions was crafted to select the desired lot.

“Through an official notification issued on Feb 10, 2014, the authorities placed 15 marks out of a total of 100 for the promotion of officers at the discretion of the CSB. Out of the 15, five marks were reserved for the personal integrity of the officer, as determined by the CSB. And out of these five integrity marks, three were made compulsory for promotion to the next grade,” said another senior official of the federal bureaucracy. “So, 97 per cent of the marks were rendered meaningless if one had failed to win those three ‘mighty points’ in the pockets of the selectors. This made the CSB a discretionary authority in promoting an officer without consideration of his or her performance evaluation report, which otherwise has 85 marks,” he explained.

Officers who were denied promotions criticised the composition of the CSB, too, alleging that it does not consist of the senior-most officers and that several of its members evaluated their seniors for promotion.

“The CSB was not lawfully constituted as the senior-most BPS-22 police officers were left out

and replaced with several junior police officers (to evaluate the performance of their fellow officers),” say several petitions filed in the Islamabad High Court.

Officials at the establishment division, however, insist that no criteria were ever violated.

“Under Section 9 of the Civil Servants Act, seniority-cum-fitness is the criterion for promotions and it is always followed,” said Mohsin S. Haqqani, additional secretary of the establishment division. “The provincial quota is considered only at the time of the appointment of officers and it’s quite useful for representation of the [less populous] provinces. I belong to Sindh and I am here because of that quota. I might not have reached here if this quota system did not exist. This hue and cry about ignoring provinces doesn’t have any merit. Even in our division (the establishment division), there are two additional secretaries from Sindh under a secretary from Punjab. There are more officers from Punjab because there is a higher intake on merit from that province,” he continued.

Former federal secretary Tasneem Noorani seemed to concur. “Political affiliation always plays very important role in the promotions of bureaucrats. But the impression about ignoring officers from the [less populous] provinces is not true. What objection can a Punjabi prime minister have if two or more secretaries from Sindh and Balochistan get selected in top notch of around 40?” he told this reporter. “Actually, very few people from Balochistan come into the civil service. Their number always remains low at the entry level. And many a time Baloch officers are given consideration for their humble background. If no Baloch officer gets promoted to the top grades, this means there are no Baloch officers at the stage of promotion. Their number is low because the quality of education is low there.”

Even so, he continued, “the issue of political affiliation is a serious one and the majority of officers benefit from affiliations with the ruling party. This practice should be condemned by the civil society and media; they should embarrass officers who get promotions because of their connections with the government and also the governments who select them.”

Establishment division secretary Nadeem Hassan Asif, who is also a member of the CSB, had earlier said that promotion matters were transparent.

“The CSB is headed by the chairman of the Federal Public Service Commission and consists of 18 officers of grade 22. This board recommends officers for promotion and sends its nominations to the prime minister, who gives the final approval for these promotions,” he said.

A former senior bureaucrat, who has served across the country, especially in Sindh and Balochistan, says that government officers always look for political patronage instead of performance to get promotions.

“Those who belong to Sindh connect themselves to the PPP. Punjabis desire to join the camp of the close associates of the Sharif brothers for promotion. Nobody tries to improve his or her performance for promotion. Political parties also prefer bureaucrats who can serve them better, instead of the country,” said the distinguished former official whose service as the IGP in Sindh and Balochistan was one of the major highlights of his career.

The official, who did not want to give his name because he is under a post-retirement bar to give interviews, said the promotion policy needed to be changed on professional grounds.

“Instead of seniority and officers’ recommendation, there should be a competitive examination for promotion,” he said. “Officers who fail this examination should not be promoted to the next grade.”

Barrister Masroor Shah, who has been arguing cases regarding the promotions of bureaucrats since 2005, said that governments always try to promote their blue-eyed boys without any justification. “Governments always look for the ‘yes, boss’ type of officials in the bureaucracy while promoting them. Rules and regulations are only for those who are discarded,” he observed.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2015

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