Commission and omission

A provincial recruitment body without a provincial services representation negates the 18th Amendment

The nomination of a retired inspector general of Punjab Police, Amjad Javed Salimi, as a member of the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) can be seen as an instance of the government rewarding a former policeman.

Salimi has replaced Anwar Rasheed (the former Anti Corruption Establishment Punjab director general).

Rasheed had faced serious charges. He had allegedly used his position to pressure a vice chancellor to induct his son in the university. Former KPK Police chief, Nasir Durrani, who had refused to lead a task force to bring reforms in the Punjab Police, was also nominated to the PPSC. It has thus become a regular practice to reward favourite bureaucrats for their ‘services’.

The argument that there have been many such instances in the past carries no weight. The PPSC is tasked with recommending the best candidates for recruitment as officers to manage the provincial departments through a selection process laid down in the provincial Act.

The officers are recommended by a 21-member selection board led by the chairman. According to rules, only grade 21 officers and above are eligible to become PPSC members for a period of three years. It is surprising to note that all the incumbent members belong to the federal hierarchy and not a single member comes from the provincial services. There appears to be a big question mark on the eligibility of provincial officers to be represented on this body after they have served the government for so long.

Apart from two ‘services’ officers, there is an officer each from Foreign Service, Customs, Inland Revenue and Postal Service. Besides, there are four members each from the PAS and the PSP.

Federal government officers enjoy the best perks and privileges but lack recruiting experience for provincial departments. The mighty bureaucrats can sometimes be amazingly oblivious of grassroots problems in the provincial departments.

It is alleged that there is no criterion for appointment of the PPSC members other than favouritism. Retired officers from the elite PAS and PSP frequently make it to the PPSC. But, can all bureaucrats deliver as PPSC members? Certainly not.

Provincial service officials complain that the continued hegemony and monopoly of the federal officers has resulted in depriving them of the opportunity to serve in the Commission, the selection platform for the provincial machinery. The current arrangement, they say, is not productive. It also speaks of a lack of coordination between the federal government and the provincial machinery.

Federal government officers enjoy the best perks and privileges but lack sufficient recruiting experience for provincial departments.

While discussing the poor standards of candidature, a PPSC member suggested that it was the result of the semester system. Settling on a substandard examination system, he says, is one of the main reasons. A former provincial secretary for Implementation and Coordination acknowledged on the condition of anonymity that the Commission has been recommending candidates of low calibre.

Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmad (retired), the PPSC chairman, said it was the prerogative of the government to appoint members from amongst retired officers. He said the Commission had no role in such appointments. The Commission, he claimed, uses the best practices to ensure a fool-proof recruiting mechanism.

However, the Commission has written to the Punjab governor about the deteriorating academic standards among the candidates appearing for prime positions. The governor has already constituted a committee consisting of academics to look into the issue and to suggest remedies. He said there was no political or administrative interference in the Commission’s affairs.

The chairman said the Commission facilitates candidates at its regional offices, too. He said he had recommended to the government to demolish the old PPSC building on Davis Road and build a purposed facility to save rental expenses.

Citing last year’s report, he said the Commission had recruited a record 14,848 officials after interviewing 35,378 candidates in 2018 after processing 489,153 applications. Earlier, the record for the highest number of recruitments in a year had stood at 12,138 (during 2016).

The Provincial Management Service Association president, Tariq Mehmood Awan, says that administrative, financial and criminal laws don’t apply to the federal service officers posted in a province. So, it is up to them to deliver or not to do so.

Without consulting relevant rules, he said, he couldn’t comment on the issue of posting of officers to the commission. Services Secretary Shehryar Sultan, could not be reached at his office or by Whatsapp despite repeated efforts.

Experts say the PPSC should not only be financially independent but also be given powers to manage its affairs. The PPSC, they say, should improve and refine its systems to determine candidates’ suitability for management slots. The government should lay down a merit-based criterion for the appointment of suitable retired officers as members. Officers having specialisation in human resource management may prove more useful in the selection board. They also say the Commission should have a role in the appointment of its members.

The experts say Commission should develop its research and outreach wings besides instituting a strong liaison between academia and market-driven employment prospects. One of the measures to make the selection process more impartial and fair is to amend the PPSC Act to give the commission a role in the provincial selection boards on the pattern of the Federal Public Service Commission. This could ensure good governance at the provincial level, realising the importance of an impartial bureaucracy which is indispensable for democracy.

Every year, the Commission presents its annual report to the governor and the legislative assembly holds a discussion. Irrigation Minister Mohsin Leghari had made certain observations about the PPSC during an assembly debate during the past government. “To know the ground realities, the PPSC should select its members out of the public to avoid dependence on retired officers. When retired officers are obliged, they are expected to return the favour. They have to oblige [when they receive] a phone call from the Chief Minister’s Secretariat,” Leghari had said.

Ahmed Khan Baloch, another MPA then, had raised another issue: “Either there should be a uniform education system or the PPSC should arrange separate examinations for candidates from the underdeveloped areas.”

A provincial recruitment body without a provincial services representation negates the 18th Amendment