Civil service reform- An incomplete agenda

Khaleeq Nazar Kiani

The Prime Minister’s office had issued warning letters and show-cause notices to the civil servants over slow progress and delay in public complaints’ redressal. The step was taken to conjure up the civil servants for expediting the service delivery, which was in the PTI’s manifesto.
Soon after assuming power, the Prime Minister assigned the task of civil service reforms to Dr. Ishrat Hussain (ex-bureaucrat). He holds several meetings and consulted/interacted with different associations of bureaucracy in all the provinces, but no significant or revolutionary change came out of the bag.
Almost one month back, Federal Minister on institutional reforms Mr. Shafaqat Mehmood unveiled some new measures to improve the working of bureaucracy like rotation policy, promotion rules, retirement, efficiency and discipline rules, cadre composition rules. But still, the problem is there, and the working style of bureaucracy is the same. The situation is worse in the provinces. The only good thing is that system is evolving with time, and changes are always good.
Where is the problem?
The bureaucratic life cycle has three phases: recruitment, institutional tenure/in-service work, and retirement.
The recruitment of gazetted officers from federal or provincial public service commissions is mostly transparent, merit-based with few exceptions. Dr. Ishrat Hussain has suggested some changes in the recruitment of officers but hardly will improve the overall quality.
The induction of officers from other institutions on a quota basis is legal but detrimental for the public sector institutions. The fellow bureaucrat calls them the back door entrants. They lack the basic understanding of the civilian mindset and often indulge in unfair practices due to laxity and absence of accountability in the civil bureaucrat system. However, they are good manipulators and know how to manage good postings.
The recruitment of non-gazetted /allied staff is a hot cake and gift for the ruling political elite. At the same time, it is a problem for the bureaucrats. The political boss of a department always tries to create as much lower grade posts as possible, especially at the provincial level, to accommodate their favorites in violation of merit. No matter industry, forest, or any other sector exists or not, but if the minister belongs to that district, he will create posts without justification.
In the recruitment of lower grade posts, the political influence, cronyism, peer pressure, and nepotism can be seen without a microscope. The unnecessary recruitment has increased the size of the non-gazetted staff many folds in all provincial and federal government departments/ministries that are now unmanageable.
The second phase in the life of the bureaucrat is more challenging and difficult. The concept of separation of civil service from politics is in the books and theories; practically, it did not exist. No matter how brilliant the officer is and got the position in a competitive examination, his appointment will be at the mercy and will of the political boss. He has to obey the orders without consideration of its legality. Practically the young officers’ very first day starts compromising the best practices of the public governance and start deviating from the law. Some suffer while a few lucky go scot-free.
There is no surety of service tenure despite judgments of Apex courts. Lucrative posting is only reserve for obedient civil servants irrespective of senior or junior criteria. Annual confidential reports, E& D rules are meaningless if a political boss is behind the corrupt officer. A recent report of NAB about Sindh bureaucracy is alarming. The situation in Balochistan, Punjab, and KPK is also the same. Thousands of service matter cases are pending in the courts due to the highhandedness of the political masters.
The accountability and on job training system is very weak. Efficiency and disciple law is toothless, and there is no effective mechanism to filter the bright and brilliant officers. Unfortunately, the in-service training institutions for MCMC, SMC, and NMC courses are certificate awarding institutes and have no mechanism to weed out the deadwood from bureaucracy. All horses are same there, and not seen a single officer was shunt out.
It has been widely observed that more than 80% of the departments’ workload is about employee-related matters like pension papers, leave, reimbursement of medical bills, and transfer/ postings, very little time left for public service. The public-related work account only 20%.
The legitimacy of any political system depends on its ability to ensure the stability of the social order. If the ruling political elite is corrupt, demanding, and incompetent, then no public governance system succeeds. No reform can bring any change. In the present scenario, the poor are actually losing ground, and active support for so-called democratic regimes is declining, which is a dangerous sign.
What is the solution?
There is a need for some thought about the governance system. It is a fundamental concern of the state and society. Instead of cosmetic changes, E-Governance and the use of modern technology in all fields of service delivery is the only viable solution for transparency and good management.
In the modern world, the use of web site and online applications are no longer sufficient for recruitment, and now a large cloud-based HR management system is in practice. It is time to digitize all employees’ related matters.
The weak areas in civil service (inefficiency and corruption) are directly related to political governance, which can only be handled by minimizing human intervention. There was a time when all public procurements were manual, then PPRA rules introduced, and now no one can raise a finger on the tendering process, but the bidding is still out of the technological realm.
The introduction of E- bidding in all government procurements and the use of modern technology in the monitoring and evaluation will ensure transparency and timely disposal in the system. The public service delivery will automatically improve.