Potential for reform

Published November 6, 2016

Since its inception Pakistan has been facing various administrative problems. If we peel off the layers of these politico-economic problems we get to the managerial question of formulating effective policies and their successful implementation. At the heart of this administrative dilemma lies the structure and functioning of the civil service. Stanley Wolpert has highlighted the importance of civil service in his book Jinnah of Pakistan in the following words: “For running the machinery of the state, whatever may be its form, democratic (parliamentary, presidential), socialist, communist, capitalist, utilitarian, totalitarian, fascist, Bonapartic, dictatorial, militarist, autocratic, monarchy (feudalist, absolute or constitutional); and for fulfilling the objectives of the state vis-à-vis its contractual nature with the society, civil servants, as instruments, had played a phenomenal role.”

A developing country with an immediate need for good governance, in particular, cannot ignore the importance of its civil servants. How are they trained, selected and deputed? What are their core responsibilities? How to evaluate their performance? All these questions and more have been addressed in Analysis and Future Possibilities: Civil Services of Pakistan — Dilemmas and Challenges, edited by Sarfraz Khawaja.

The book is a compilation of 12 research papers written by senior civil servants during their professional training (national management course) under the institutional umbrella of National School of Public Policy (NSPP). Khawaja is currently working as dean of the National Institute of Public Policy, Lahore. He is a veteran academician with a long career of teaching in the US and Pakistan, besides which he has done research consultancy work for several international organisations. His efforts to edit, update, and compile these otherwise not easily accessible research papers for general readers are commendable.

Senior members of Pakistan’s civil service examine the existing structure of the system and highlight the areas where improvements are needed

The research papers can be categorised into three broad groups: reforms, performance evaluation, and trainings. The papers relating to reforms focus on structural modifications, corruption, and size of the civil service. These papers examine the history of reform initiatives in Pakistan and their flaws. A comparison with the reforms promulgated in the Indian Civil Service has also been presented.

Tajammul Altaf has rightly pointed out in his paper ‘Restructuring Pakistan’s Civil Service’ that the real issue in Pakistan is that the elected representatives want to hold maximum powers to exercise political influence and control over both civil servants and the people, whereas the developed countries have an international trend for outsourcing municipal functions to the private sector, which is comparatively more efficient and the government stands as regulator only.

A suggestion put forth by Rizwan Ullah Beg in the paper ‘Civil Service Reforms in India and Pakistan’ is the need for “redesigning of rules and core business processes at all levels of government to achieve functional efficiency, client orientation, cost reduction, transparency, and a shift of focus from process compliance to output and outcomes”. Further recommendations include better salary structures, accountability, e-governance, decentralisation, and stability of tenure.

The second category of papers highlights one of the main reasons why our civil service performance has not been up to the mark, and the reason is the archaic and vague performance evaluation of civil servants by their superiors. No matter what kind of structural reforms are introduced, without a robust and precise mechanism for evaluating the performance of individual civil servants, much-needed change in the organisational culture cannot be implemented. It is only through a foolproof performance evaluation that the contribution of each individual can be quantified in terms of his effort towards achieving organisational goals.

“Bureaucracy is the backbone of the governing of any country and the quality of this governing machinery is critical for the overall governance and development of any country today. As such despite a slight respite on the political front, the political governments may find it difficult to turn around the growth and development paradigm, as other than weak political governance the overall functionality of the country’s bureaucracy is impaired on account of serious issues of morality and severe complacency on the compliance of the central code of conduct. The nascent democracy pillared on politics of patronage and opportunism has thus found a highly compromised bureaucracy, having serious issues in terms of performance and morality. This is likely to be a hurdle in improving the overall performance of the government which at present is becoming a sine qua non for strengthening of the democracy in the country.” — Excerpt from the book

Muhammad Jahanzeb Khan has recommended in his paper ‘Developing a Performance Oriented Culture in Government Functionaries’ that key performance indicators (KPIs) of each office in an organisation should be delineated. These KPIs should be in accordance with the general mission of the department. However, the author did not mention that many departments of federal and provincial governments have devised KPIs of their officers, which are not taken seriously by the majority of officers because the score of these KPIs does not affect the annual performance evaluation report (erstwhile known as ACR). It is further suggested by Khan that feedback from clients may also be taken into consideration while evaluating the performance of an individual. This will motivate the officers concerned to provide public service to the satisfaction of the clients of that respective organisation.

The third category of papers points out the fact that sufficient training opportunities are not available for employees of grade one to 16, although in many departments the public usually has to deal with these employees, who are mostly not very well educated and lack basic principles of social etiquette. There is an immediate need to inculcate a sense of duty in them and to improve their public dealing skills.

While discussing trainings for officers of grade 17 and above, these papers have shown confidence in the existing programmes that include common training programme (for fresh entrants in grade 17), mid-career management course (for promotion to grade 19), senior management course (for promotion to grade 20), and national management course (for promotion to grade 21). These training programmes consist of several components, including the requirement of writing research papers — some of which have been made part of the book under discussion. Moreover, such programmes make them question the weaknesses and drawbacks of the very system that has turned them into compliant cogs of an immense machine.

However, the question of providing the same training to all officers from different government departments requiring various professional skills has not been discussed. Sardar Muhammad Abbas has commented on the lack of a challenging environment in the civil service in his paper ‘Training System of Civil Servants’: “Another reason why the civil services appear so unattractive to highly educated people is the intellectual inertia that a new recruit faces after some time. There is not much room for personal development and alas, there is no opportunity available for improving skills within the restricted environment of the services. This suffocates a person with the desire to grow over time and not be limited to strict rules and stifling routines that ultimately lead to boredom and stagnancy.”

It is the need of the hour to provide dynamism and performance-oriented remunerations/rewards to attract the most brilliant among the youth of the nation to the civil services. Similar recommendations have been made by the National Commission for Government Reforms headed by Dr Ishrat Husain and endorsed by several research papers included in the book.

Almost all the papers have advocated the adoption of transparency, meritocracy, accountability and decentralisation of power. However, it would have been better if some papers had focused on how to best implement these broad principles of good governance. Ultimately, it is a pleasant surprise to see civil servants arguing for the need of civil service reforms even though they are generally viewed as supporters of the status quo.

The reviewer is a freelance writer.

Analysis and Future Possibilities: Civil Services of Pakistan — Dilemmas and Challenges
Edited by Sarfraz Khawaja
Allied Book Company, Lahore-Rawalpindi
ISBN: 978-9698486204

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 6th, 2016



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