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April 25, 2019

Equal opportunity administration


April 25, 2019

The Central Superior Services, the elite cadre of the bureaucracy that has run the affairs of government since 1947, may be set to disappear under a civil service reform put in place by the government. The proposal, drafted by Dr Ishrat Hussain and his Task Force on Civil Service Reform is intended to introduce the idea of equality between all public servants and take away the idea of privilege and elitism that comes with the ‘Superior Services’. The CSS is of course a colonial concept and operates in much the same way in Pakistan, India and other former British colonies. The exam for entry into the CSS is regarded as one of the toughest in the country, and success in it brings immediate prestige. It is this prestige and sense of superiority that the new system intends to take down. The principle and spirit in this decision is no doubt a good one. The idea is that there would be one general examination for all cadres of service and specialised streams within the bureaucracy. This too makes sense, given that there is now globally too increased specialisation required for different tasks. The entry test for the civil service is to be revised to test the ability and aptitude of candidates rather than their knowledge alone. The current CSS exam is heavily dependent on mastery in English and many falter at this stage, with their possible capabilities ignored.

The plan, which is reported to have already run into difficulty from within the cabinet, essentially offers something that is arguably very good. Certainly, in a country divided so sharply along the lines of class, we need to end the idea of some persons being ‘superior’ to others. Civil servants wield power at every point in their careers and by the time they reach posts which give them administrative control of the government secretariats and directorates they are essentially seen as overlords by ordinary citizens. They also effectively run government, given that elected ministers have limited knowledge and come and go – as we have recently seen.

While there can be no doubt the good intentions behind the induction of a new system, just as there is no doubting that all schools should offer an equal education to pupils, the question is whether we can achieve this end smoothly and efficiently, without creating mass chaos. Such an attempt has to be made carefully, with thought and by incorporating all stakeholders in the discussion so that any flaws can be ironed out. This is essential since the CSS cadre essentially holds up the country’s governance. It has many faults; some are glaring and have contributed hugely to the red tape and lack of will which holds back our country. Change is required, but to achieve it successfully we must study models from other countries, look at their pros and cons and then look at systems which can truly work to serve the country and its people.

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