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February 17, 2020

Civil service reforms critiqued


February 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: All the provisions of the civil service reforms package unveiled by the government are part of the Estacode (civil establishment code) in one form or the other.

“Since the package puts too much faith in the goodness of a few men in power, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating,” is how some senior officials, who closely studied the proposed reforms, interpreted the recommendations for The News. They pointed out that the higher level promotion board, which the prime minister himself chairs, has already lowered the standard of merit and fair play in all the grades 21 and 22 promotions that were decided in last 18 months.

Citing examples, the officials, who chose anonymity, said that highly acclaimed police officer AD Khawaja was not moved to the next grade while an officer junior to him, who is blue-eyed of top authorities, was promoted. This delayed Khawaja’s elevation by six months.

Top bureaucrats said that the last higher level board that the prime minister presided promoted 11 officers of PAS (Pakistan administrative services) to Grade 22.

Of them, four officers were the ones, who had previously been superseded multiple times, the officials said adding that some were even bypassed by the present government, but they were elevated to the higher level board held in December last. One promoted officer had been superseded for at least eight times.

They further pointed out that in Punjab, the average tenure of provincial secretaries has not been even four months. The government transferred 10 education secretaries, four home secretaries, four food secretaries, three secretaries to the Punjab chief minister and four commissioners and four deputy commissioners of Rawalpindi. “So the real test is not what is preached but what is practiced.”

Bureaucrats said a few measures figuring in the package like increasing the marks of promotion board from 15 to 30 have enhanced discretionary powers of the government. The package said that the collective judgement of the promotion board has become more relevant - more marks for it from 15% to 30%. However, officials said that this, if not used in structured accountable manner, will be used to victimise the officers, who are on wrong side of any political administration. Discretion is mostly exercised to favour or disfavour some officers, they stated.

Similarly, the officials take with a pinch of salt the mandatory review after 20 years of service that may lead to compulsory retirement. They apprehend that it can be used to discriminate against the bureaucrats, who do not toe the political line and speak truth to powerful people.

The officials said that the provision about induction of provincial civil servants in the federal service already exists. However, senior echelons of federal bureaucracy have never implemented it in order to maintain their hegemony.

The rotation policy, introduced by Pervez Musharraf, they said, is already in existence, but always violated by the children of senior civil servants. It existed in 1997, but incidentally that year sons of three chief secretaries joined civil service and all wanted to go to Punjab. Hence, the policy was put in the cold storage to facilitate them. Unprecedented inter-provincial transfers were made only to be undone after six months, they recalled.

Bureaucrats said that the civil service remains at its low in terms of performance, moral and pride--four Inspector Generals of Police (IGPs) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and five IGPs of Punjab have been transferred in 18 months.

It has been officially stated that the reforms have the primary objective of transforming the civil service structure into a merit-based, depoliticised cadre of professionals. It has made the submission of declarations of assets mandatory for promotion. But record shows that this condition already exists as it is obligatory for every officer to submit such statement every year that becomes part of his/her official file.

Officials fear that compulsory retirement of some bureaucrats after finding their performance dissatisfactory during its review after 20 years of service will open the floodgates of litigation in superior courts. Even before that, the stipulation, when enforced, may be challenged in a court of law.

Confirming that the provision is part of the statute, the package said that Section 13 of the Civil Servants Act envisages that civil servants shall retire after 20 years of service, as may be directed by the competent authority and where no such direction is given, on reaching 60 years of service. It, however, said the option of retirement after 20 years of service had never been exercised by the government, resulting in an assured career path to 60 years, discouraging initiative and competition.

The package further confirmed another existing provision included in it now. It said that presently, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan have been notified as the hard areas but more regions would be so declared. Under these reforms, no PAS or PSP (police service of Pakistan) officer would be allowed to serve for more than 10 years continuously in a province or Islamabad, while transfers to other provinces or the federal capital would be made on completion of 10 years.