NON-FICTION: OUT OF SERVICE

April 14, 2019

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Evaluating the performance of the Civil Service and reforming it has been on the agenda of several previous governments in Pakistan. We have seen many commissions and committees formed to perform this uphill task, but to no avail. All we have seen so far have been cosmetic changes and fancy terminologies. The actual difference brought about by these changes still needs to be ascertained. When I took up Less Than Civil: The State of Civil Service in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by Nasser Yousaf, I expected to see such an effort, to gauge the impact on service delivery brought about by the changes introduced in recent years. However, objective research on this topic remains elusive.

Yousaf has divided his book into nine chapters and highlighted several contradictions in the policies that have recently been adopted and the ground reality. For example, in a chapter that discusses the KP Public Service Commission, Yousaf brings to readers’ attention a case study about a former chairman of the KP Public Service Commission who conducted interviews in a manner that resembled an inquisition, in order to judge the suspect beliefs of the candidate more than evaluating their “aptitude, capabilities and potentialities” for the job they had applied for. Self-description of candidates using words such as “accommodative, go-getter, cooperative, innovative, flexible, etc” were turned into nightmares, and the chairman branded them as someone who would engage in corrupt practices. At the same time, candidates with the right connections were not grilled by the same self-righteous chairman.

However, Yousaf concludes this chapter by citing a newspaper article and recommending that all public service commissions in the country, and the Higher Education Commission, read that article in order to find out what ails the system. In my opinion, this does not do justice to the readers of the book who, by the end of this chapter, are completely invested in finding out what ails the public service commissions and how it can be fixed, only to be left to consult an old newspaper article to reach the logical conclusion of the discussion. Yousaf could have summarised the findings of the article for the convenience of his readers, if not giving fresh recommendations to revamp the system. Moreover, Yousaf has stated in the same chapter that a “continuous downward trend has been witnessed in the results of the competitive examination” without supporting this claim with relevant data.

An exploration of the problems of the bureaucracy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is easy to read, but lacks academic rigour and often leaves the reader unsatisfied

The narrative in another chapter titled ‘Obedience and Defiance’ keeps shifting from one problem to another. The chapter starts with an example of the British colonial civil servant Sir Robert Warburton and his dedication to his job. Then it goes to the illegal means employed by political agents in the tribal areas, such as the prevalence of corruption, nepotism and misuse of discretionary powers. Then, the discussion moves on to the misgivings of the provincial civil service against the federal civil service. Furthermore, Yousaf laments the poor state of education in the province and how religious parties had made sure, under various administrations, to keep the school and college syllabi conservative without allowing rational thought. One such administration during the period 2002-07 even went so far as to direct all provincial departments to ‘Islamise’ their domains.

Towards the end of this chapter, Yousaf states that in 2016, 24 demands were presented by KP in a Senate Standing Committee, but members of this committee were unhappy about the way these demands were presented by the provincial bureaucracy. We do not get any details as to what these demands were or how these demands could have been presented in a better way, in accordance with the observations of the committee members.

In another place, Yousaf suggests to “adopt a more professionally oriented service structure for good governance”, but he does not share any details regarding how the service structure can be made more professional and leaves it to the imagination of the reader.

This is the fourth book of the author who writes extensively for various newspapers. The journalistic background of the author sets the underlying tone of the book, which reads more like a series of opinion pieces rather than research work done with academic rigour. This very fact makes it easier to comprehend, but leaves many aspects of the problems unexplored.

The reviewer is a civil servant and freelance writer

Less Than Civil: The State of Civil Service in
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
By Nasser Yousaf
Dost, Islamabad
ISBN: 978-9694965352

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, April 14th, 2019