Luck of the draw?

October 21, 2019

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A RECENT petition before the Lahore High Court, filed by the Pakistan Railways Employees Union, has challenged the appointment of more than 800 new inductees through Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s rather novel hiring process of selection via lottery rather than on the basis of merit. Yet even this seemingly randomised process has been called into question by the petition’s claim that over half of these recruits mysteriously hail from only two constituencies — one of the railways minister himself and the other of his nephew, MNA Sheikh Rashid Shafiq. Besides this, a question mark hangs over the potential application of this arbitrary approach to hiring in other government departments. The railways minister announced his intent to fill up vacancies by balloting in May this year. On June 17, following the federal cabinet’s approval, the Establishment Division issued a notification detailing amendments made to the Civil Servants (Appointment, Transfer and Promotion) Rules, 1973. The amendments included changes to Rule 16 to allow for vacancies in BPS-1 to BPS-5 posts to be filled on a local basis “through balloting”. Granted, this was followed on June 29 with a memorandum of guidelines providing some criteria of qualification and aptitude, but this appears to have led only to more confusion than clarity.

When the present government assumed office last year, some 171,000 federal posts lay vacant. Such a massive deficit of human resources has undoubtedly strained federal functioning, but there is no quick or easy fix to this conundrum. In fact, exposing such recruitments to questions of their legitimacy — through a process that is both unconstitutional and illogical — will only create more impediments in the way of good governance. This shortcut method of hiring government employees gives rise to many issues, such as its susceptibility to rigging. Another question is whether these arbitrarily selected cohorts of inductees would later be subjected to performance evaluations. And if the answer is ‘yes’, then why can’t a similar evaluation process simply be applied at the hiring stage itself?

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019