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December 5, 2018

Civil service reforms through PAS


December 5, 2018

Efficient and transparent governance is key to make any reforms effective and meaningful. This applies more to the governments. Its dynamic process is always in need of more kinetic energy lest it gets rusted. Recently the incumbent government has constituted a task force to formulate administrative reforms. Its stated purpose is to devise a public service structure and to look into policies around Human Resource Management, Career Planning, etc.

A former CSP and now a noted economist, Dr. Ishrat Hussain heads a 19 member Task Force. Can this task force be different from the civil services reforms carried out earlier, when out of 19 members, 13 are from Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS)? Will it adopt innovative approach or redesign the civil service structure and change its culture, are the main points that merit analysis.

While reconstituting task force, did Imran Khan forget about models that he would repeatedly refer in his speeches to create a welfare state on the pattern of Sweden and other developed countries? In such countries, local or the county system is the delivering engine. We are aware that on the eve of 9/11, it was the Mayor of New York who led from the front. At Sydney Olympics, Chief Guest was mayor of the city. So was the role of mayors in France and in London when bomb explosion rocked the cities. In this context, one of the international reformers remarked that it would be mind-boggling for anyone in Sweden or in any Norwegian county if asked who the deputy commissioner of any county was. The same holds true about any other former western European country.

It might have been a case of error of judgment on the part of PM to depend upon his trusted adviser on establishment who preferred to have members from his civil service group to be on the task force. One of the keen observers of these task forces predicted that PAS will reign and nothing adverse will occur to their interest.

We may note that the civil service includes 12 different occupational groups. Essentially it is led by the PAS in every area from promotion to appointment to policymaking. A foreign author looking at its powers and perks called it “Neo-Imperial elite service”. General impression about the PAS and Police is their disconnect as they can’t relate to problems on grounds. They travel in luxurious vehicles and live in palaces.

The government has initiated a small step to house them in small decent accommodations. But it has been described as destroying the state edifice and has earned ire of senior CSP officers- one of them ventilated in these words: “In our continuing epic saga of destroying the civil service, the latest episode is selling all command residences of DCs, SPs, commissioners and DIGs, because they are ‘too big’.”

Currently, 90 percent secretaries to government and directors in World Bank & Asia Bank and Economic Ministers are from the PAS which is usurping the right of those qualified for the positions from other occupational groups. Provincial service is looked at with such contempt that even its senior officers are not entitled to be members of officers’ mess. Does such a mindset exist in any civilised country?

Will hierarchy be shared on merit with different groups is another area that task force needs to cover. Civil service also can enrich fertile brains from private sectors for specialised areas such as energy and commerce for ease of doing business and lastly for improving mega state-owned enterprises currently suffering losses in billions of rupees. Also this can be achieved provided this “Elite Service” is ready to compromise its lion’s share.

We have inherited the ICS system from British Raj, renamed the CSP, but without the former’s commitment, efficiency and finesse. On the contrary, civil service in the UK underwent drastic changes and it works under elected local bodies’ representatives. The UK too has a secretariat with a few tiers’ system which merely follows the policies of the minister unlike the situation in Pakistan.

We may note that in 2001 as part of the devolution plan, local governments were introduced but looking at the Ordinance, one finds that the District Coordination Officer replacing Deputy Commissioner was “the official head of the district” whereas the District Nazim was in-charge of the overall district. One of the commentators then questioned if Nazim was the unofficial head of the district? The DMG Service agitated against this step but was happy on upgrading the post of the Deputy Commissioner to BS-20, which were earlier occupied by an officer of BS-18/19. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto under Khurshid Hassan committee created 12 different groups, they were moved horizontally as well as vertically. It never went fine with CSP/ DMGs and on first given chance, the whole scheme was made ineffective in Ziaul Haq tenure.

Crucial question arises why political governments prefer civil officers instead of the elected representatives. To one such query, it was stated that the elected representatives misuse the authority and indulge in corrupt practices. The pertinent point is if civil officers are immune from the corrupt practices.

Under the 18th Amendment which devalued function from the Federation, the provinces should have developed their service cadres to handle devolved departments. But still, the provinces have not placed these departments under provincial services. So the Center is keeping control on such subjects through federal officers, which is contrary to the spirit of devolution plan.

The purpose of reforms is to develop expertise and quality as well as to make it pluralistic and lastly improve delivery of service. To inject quality and expertise, task force co-opts professionals from different service groups, judiciary, MS Branch of Army and from corporate entities of private sector. And to make it more diverse yet synergetic, the FPSC should induct through examination for grade 20 and above. However, a certain criterion be worked out to absorb officers from Balochistan. To improve delivery of services AC /DCs under elected city government to physical visits towns, and UCs centers.

But one must forget past experiences as again intentions are clear when the think tank of PAS has made it clear in these words on taking away huge residences “The only other option for the bureaucracy is to show the guts to stand up for its rights through strong associations and unions to give itself a voice in this era of governance through the media.” Rules are easily made, changes are ordered straight way but it is far more difficult to change the culture of bureaucracy. Therefore, it’s essential to hold educated debate, discussion in training institute as well on media. Strong resolve without compromises can ignite and bring positive change in mind-set. Author is former FBR officer

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