Doubts about future prospects dog Customs officers

Published September 25, 2021
Logo of the Pakistan Customs Service.— Photo courtesy The News International/File
Logo of the Pakistan Customs Service.— Photo courtesy The News International/File

ISLAMABAD: Doubts about prospects for their promotion compelled at least 10 bright officers of the Pakistan Customs Service (PCS) group to resign at the middle-management level over the last four years and many more are planning to follow suit due to an acute blockage in their promotion.

Between 1996 and 2002, the number of officers inducted into the PCS batches 24 to 29 was more than double the normal number of officers inducted yearly. Over 30 officers were inducted into the group during each year of the six-year period because the then PPP government had planned to enhance the role of sales tax in domestic economy.

Background interviews carried out and official documents seen by Dawn reveal that the massive induction into PCS was followed by transfer of the subject of sales tax to the income tax group in 2009, which created doubts in the minds of PCS officers about their prospects for promotion.

Before 2009, the subject of sales tax collection was with PCS, but most of the officers were reluctant to be posted in the sales tax collectorates. The only benefit for PCS was that it enjoyed more grade-wise cadre strength so the prospects for promotion were better than in the income tax group then.

After 2009, the advantage of speedier promotion shifted to the income tax group, which after grant of additional responsibilities was declared a new group called Inland Revenue Service (IRS) that dealt with income tax, sales tax and federal excise duty.

Against this background of transfer of subject of sales tax from one service to another, the PCS officers exhausted various legal forums but even after the passage of more than 11 years no action has been taken to ensure their proper career development, as directed by the Sindh High Court.

The dire situation can be gauged from the fact that PCS officers from the 27th batch, who have experience of more than 21 years, are still in grade 19 while most of their batch-mates in other service groups got promoted to grade 20 at least four years ago.

The sad story doesn’t end there. As per an assessment, the customs officers of the 31st batch will not be promoted to grade 20 even after 28 years of service, until 2032.

The PCS submitted a proposal to the establishment division in June 2021 under which the prime minister was to be requested to intervene in the matter just as he did in the case of Office Management Group (OMG) officers. After Imran Khan’s intervention, 42 seats in grades 20 and above were ‘encadered’ to OMG as an immediate injection to relieve the clogging in the service in terms of officers’ promotion.

This will be a one-time intervention that will enable the PCS officers of BS-19 and -20 with the required length of service to be promoted to BS-20 and -21.

According to analysts, the customs officers are not only the pioneers of automation in Pakistan’s bureaucracy but also torchbearers of change and reforms from antiquated and cumbersome processes to simplified and paperless work environment.

Career planning of all service cadres is the responsibility of establishment division, as mentioned in Schedule II provided under sub-rule 3 of rule 3 of Rules of Business, 1973. However, every officer is following his/her own personal career plan, customs officials say.

The PCS has said that immediate provision of 50 seats in grades 20 and 21 could resolve the problem. This could be carried out without upgrading or diluting the existing jurisdictions within the customs department to create the new seats.

Cadre seats can be allocated to PCS in various departments, where officers are working on deputation.

The PCS still collects 42 per cent of the Federal Board of Revenue’s total revenue and handle international trade worth $70 billion per annum through import, export and transit. These functions are carried out with a total workforce of 10,141.

Of these, only 502 are in BS-17 and above, including 26 in BS-21, allocated to members, chief collectors and directors general. The service structure pyramid of PCS flattens out at BS-21 with only two such seats available.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2021

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