THE government has introduced the Civil Servants Rules, 2020, aimed at retiring superseded officials even before they reach the age of 60. The rules include a list of conditions that may enable the competent authorities within the government to send ‘deadwood’ among the bureaucrats home so that civil servants as a whole become more responsive to the requirements of service delivery and focus on their performance. The rules say that officials who may become eligible for early retirement will include those who receive three or more average performance evaluation reports; who have been twice recommended for supersession; found guilty of corruption; or have entered into a plea bargain with NAB or any investigating agency — and a few other such conditions. The government argues the rules will ensure better performance and a more efficient bureaucracy.
However, there is a genuine concern that these rules may end up weakening the bureaucracy and making it vulnerable to political manipulation. One of the key strengths of the bureaucratic structure — the so-called steel frame of governance — is the security of tenure which cannot be tampered with by the government of the day. It is this security that enables the bureaucracy to resist political pressures and uphold the rules and regulations upon which rests the edifice of governance. If this is weakened, or made dependent on individuals — whomsoever they may be — then we run a very real risk of officials scurrying to be in the good books of those who have the power to decide who stays in service and who is sent packing. The intention behind the formation of these rules may appear to be fair. But operationalising the rules is bound to create problems. In a highly politicised environment like ours, it would be particularly unwise to give governments the power to make decisions about the career fates of bureaucrats. What is to stop the government of the day from making such decisions on the basis of likes and dislikes? The committees and forums that have been given the responsibility to make such judgements as per the new rules also work under the political set-up and are therefore dependent on the leadership. There is no reason why the careers of thousands of bureaucrats should be put in the hands of committees which report to the political leadership. It would be advisable for the PTI government to review this decision and strengthen the bureaucracy instead of further weakening it.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2020