ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Special Assistant on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari has sent to The News for publication the following explanation of his ministry in response to The News story –...
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Special Assistant on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari has sent to The News for publication the following explanation of his ministry in response to The News story – ‘Govt prefers discretion over merit in lucrative foreign postings’- published on Feb 14.
“Government prefers merit over discretion in postings to serve Overseas Pakistanis Community Welfare Attaches appointed in foreign missions serve as important ambassadors of Pakistan across the world, with a more important task to provide humanitarian assistance to Overseas Pakistanis. A job that requires as many elements of empathy as it does of diplomacy would be expected to have a rigorous selection and screening process - something has been overlooked for years by all previous governments.
SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari falling in line with PM Imran Khan’s vision of ‘right person for the right job’ has for the first time in history introduced a detailed selection process. Before 2016, selection of CWAs was a discretionary matter, with postings done as deemed appropriate by the ‘men’ in office. Even after a selection policy was introduced there has been a lack of proper filtering process. This resulted in inexistent merit based selection of CWAs & manipulation while overseas Pakistanis in distress continued to suffer having a little or no support from their welfare attaches.
Before an awareness campaign by this ministry & change in selection process was proposed to PM Imran Khan, many overseas Pakistanis were even unaware of the existence of CWAs.
In the June of 2019, 17 CWAs were due to return to Pakistan from different countries after completion of their 3-year tenures. As per the policy put in place in 2016, the process of selection of new batch was initiated in Aug 2018. Considering the gaps left by the previous batch appointments, changes in the selection procedure were proposed by the Ministry of OP&HRD on Dec 11,2018. Pakistan’s missions abroad & Ministry of OP&HRD have frequently faced issues of understaffing & mismatched skill sets of CWAs compared to their job requirements. One such example was UAE — a country home to the 2nd largest number of Pakistani diaspora mainly blue collar workers with only 3 CWAs to serve such a large population. Moreover, the CWAs are regularly required to pay visits to jails & labour camps while facing constant language & cultural barriers. Ministry proposed a process of selecting appropriately placed candidates in these roles that require extensive public dealing. Increasing the number of CWAs based on population demographics were also proposed from currently 4 to 6 in KSA and from 1 to 2 in Qatar. In terms of changes in the selection process, the ministry proposed that basing the postings on written tests is an inadequate indicator of the candidate’s ability to perform equally well on ground. Hence, it was suggested to the federal cabinet to augment the written test with a panel interview and for that a high-powered panel be constituted. Similar practices where interviews hold great importance exist in many other selection processes around the world in both public & private sectors & even in CSS examination.
To ensure transparency desired for merit based selection in the written test, it was suggested they be carried out by 3rd party institutions of international repute. According to this policy bids were invited from LUMS & IBA, Karachi on December 12, 2018. After review of financial & technical proposals by a specially constituted committee submitted by LUMS (Rs9 million) & IBA, Karachi (Rs2.2 million), the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder by Ministry of OP&HRD. Test was conducted with only 11 candidates passing out of 410 who appeared, this number was far less than the vacancies and it was advised that a fresh process be initiated for the remaining positions instead of a compromise on quality by choosing from the existing pool. The policy of panel interview was approved by the prime minister on Jan 3, 2019 with a high-powered panel constituted [comprising Secretary Establishment Division, Secretary Overseas Pakistanis & HRD, Foreign Secretary, Additional Secretary PM Office and Joint Secretary(Emig/OP) Ministry of OP&HRD] for screening of candidates via interviews.
According to the collective decision of the federal cabinet, SAPM on OP&HRD Zulfi Bukhari was placed as chair of the selection board. This decision delegated the responsibility of selection of CWAs to him by the prime minister specific to this particular assignment ‘only’ in accordance with Rules of Business 1973. An issue previously faced by the ministry was posting of CWAs based on their written examination score and choice of station rather than their suitability for the role. The geographical distribution of Pakistani diaspora has greater concentration in the GCC countries, hence making it an area with more work intensive job requirements.
But, previously the candidates scoring higher in written examination always opted to be posted in western countries like USA & UK. The ministry proposed a change in this practice, because deputing top performers to regions with least set of requirements is comparable to making a team’s top batsman play at No 11 just because of his desire to do so.
This is to bear in mind here that these tests are a criterion for screening officers to serve Overseas Pakistanis and not a qualifying exam to reward anyone with a ‘paid holiday’ for 3 years at taxpayers’ expense. The current screening process is an example of purely merit-based selection by a panel while it is still necessary to ensure candidate’s interest to serve in that location.
The interviewing process was challenged in the court by some candidates after they failed to clear the panel interviews. Apart from those candidates, others are being screened in accordance with the latest selection policy. The entire screening policy approved by the federal cabinet with 60 percent weightage given to written test by reputable 3rd party institutions and 40 percent weightage given to interview by a special selection board leaves no margin of use of discretionary powers by any particular person in office.
It was also for the first time in any government that a high-powered panel considered various skills of CWA candidates like their communication, public dealing & their ability to converse in various languages before deciding their posting locations. As per the recruitment task given to ministry & SAPM on OP&HRD Zulfi Bukhari by PM Imran Khan on 03.01.2019, it was made mandatory for them to choose the candidates best suited to the job rather than discretion or fulfilling candidate’s wishlist.
PTI government came into power with a manifesto of strengthening institutions and processes, this is a clear example of structure improvement and only goes on to show the detailed work being put behind each task & role.”