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October 1, 2020

Civil service reform agenda: IHC decision a big boost for govt, says Dr Ishrat

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October 1, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Imran Khan government’s chief reformer, Dr Ishrat Hussain, has said that the government’s civil service reform agenda has got a big boost from the latest IHC decision upholding the promotion policy introduced by the present administration.

Talking to The News, the PM’s adviser on civil service reforms said that the court’s decision will also give a boost to other reforms interlinked with the promotion policy, including the performance evaluation system, early retirement scheme and others.

“The IHC judgment upholding the rules pertaining to the new promotion policy for Grades 19 to 21 and decisions taken by the CentralSelection Board (CSB) is highly commendable and is likely to give a big boost to the implementation of civil service reforms approved by the cabinet,” Hussain said.

He said that the CSB had based its decisions on a structured and objective evaluation of merit rather than relying on seniority cum fitness and therefore superseded some officers who were otherwise eligible on the basis of length of service.

Referring to the court decision, he underlined that the IHC concluded that promotion was not a vested right of a civil servant and had to be governed under the rules and criteria prescribed by the government from time to time and was therefore within the exclusive jurisdiction of the competent authority. No court or tribunal can substitute that opinion formed.

The PM’s advisor explained that other interlinked reforms which the cabinet has already approved include the replacement of the existing annual confidential reports by a new performance management system. Under the new system, he said, the evaluation of an officer would be based on an agreed set of key performance indicators rather than the present subjective and highly discretionary system that is unable to distinguish between a good performer and an indifferent or unsatisfactory one.

Similarly, he added, specialized training for ex-cadre and non-cadre officers as well as other cadres at mid-career and senior levels would be given due weightage in the evaluation process which will enhance the capacity of technical experts and specialists serving the government.

Some additional posts in higher grades would be created for specialists who would also be subjected to the same scrutiny and process, he said, adding that this judgment would also help in the early retirement of non-performing civil servants as the rules stipulate a similar board to recommend the cases to the competent authority for severance

He disclosed that the cabinet, however, is yet to consider a proposal for modifying induction and recruitment into the central services examinations to be conducted by the FPSC. The IHC on Tuesday, while dismissing the petitions of those officers who had challenged their supersession, said that the court, while exercising jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution, cannot assume the role of an appellate court, nor can the subjective evaluation and opinions formed by the board be substituted.

The court ordered a strengthened role for the CSB by ruling, “The Board members cannot be put on trial merely on the basis of vague assertions regarding mala fide of fact. Last but not the least is the principle of separation of powers on which the edifice of the Constitution stands.”

The judgment stated that the “presumption of regularity, fairness and reliability of the proceedings and the subjective evaluation of the Board cannot be interfered with except when mala fide is demonstrably shown to float on the surface of the record”.

The IHC also ruled that governance of the state, enforcement of laws, formulation of policies and defending the sovereignty of the state are some of the onerous obligations of the executive branch under the constitution.

“The buck stops at the top and thus the prime minister and members of the cabinet are responsible for the fulfillment of the constitutional obligations entrusted to the executive. They are the chosen representatives of the people and answerable to the majlis-e-shoora (parliament). It is their constitutional duty to ensure that suitable appointments are made through promotions and it is important to repose trust in them in this regard. The key to their success and their ability to meet the expectations of the people of Pakistan inevitably depends on the efficiency, competence and integrity of the permanent bureaucracy, particularly the civil servants. It would not be reasonable to presume that a prime minister would willingly want an incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy. The competent authority alone is the best judge for formulating policies regarding promotions. A court, through erroneous and unnecessary intrusions, could harm the ability of the competent authority to formulate dynamic, creative and innovative policies in order to enhance the efficiency of the civil service or the endeavours to ensure that civil servants who are competent, suitable and known for their integrity are appointed through promotion against ‘selection posts’. It could also have the effect of impeding the process of weeding out those who are incompetent or for any other reason not suitable to be appointed to a higher post. Excessive intrusion in matters relating to promotion could have profound consequences for the governance of the State and the formulation of policies. Restraint in such matters is thus a rule, while intrusion an exception.”