In its 2013 manifesto the PML-N promised to bring Civil Service Reforms to ensure open government through transparency and accountability.
The Ministry of Planning and Commission and Reforms had proposed certain Civil Service reforms including improvement of the compensation packages of federal employees, Executive Learning Management Course (ELMC) for 1,000 civil service officers, modernisation of curriculum according to contemporary needs, and autonomy for Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) and Provincial Public Service Commissions (PPSCs). In addition to this, the reforms talked about Mandatory Training Reform (MTR), Office Management and Performance Training (OMPT) of 5,000 employees ranging from grade 1 to 16, and civil service training policy. The reforms also proposed the transformation of establishment division into Human Resource Management and Organisation Development Division (HRM&OD).
According to the planning commission officers none of the above reform has been implemented.
Like all other major institutions of state, Pakistan inherited the institution of civil service, which was created by the British Indian Empire. During the heydays of the empire, the civil service as an institution was acknowledged and glorified as ‘the steel frame of the Raj’ due to institutional ability to maintain law and order and collect taxes. The structure of civil services was based on Weberian notions of political neutrality, merit based recruitment, guaranteed tenure and a decent salary. After independence, however, a gradual decay started and with changing circumstances the survival-instinct of civil servants ushered into a culture of Faustian bargains, which promised immediate gains. The result was a new trend of collusive partnerships both with dictatorial regimes and political governments.
Public-sector reforms generally and civil service reforms specifically have occurred on two continuums. One is the structure and nature of the public sector and the second the changes in civil service human resource. The former has been gradual and occurred in response to changes in global governance and the economy, the latter have been either hasty and politically motivated or stuck in inertia.
As Andrew Wilder noted in his research on Politics of Civil Reforms in Pakistan, the motivation for joining public service has changed from power, prestige and career security to patronage, corruption and lack of better career opportunities. The squabbles over civil service reform have also stalled any possible capacity building among the lower cadre.
The fact that the civil service is plagued with inefficiency and corruption is now taken as a given while the constituency for reform is small and subdued. Outside actors like media and civil society are more concerned about immediate issues while those within the civil service suffer from insecurity, inertia and ineptitude. The present civil service reform initiatives have also been superficial and unable to address core efficiency and accountability issues arising out of the hierarchical, input-driven design of public-sector departments and the unskilled human resource manning those departments.
Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning, Development and Reform, said that Civil service was the primary instrument of service delivery. He added that unfortunately, due to its poor performance and dated structure, the gulf between citizens’ expectations and state’s response has widened. His further argued that this has led to a growing trust deficit in society on state institutions. Talking about his government’s effort towards reforming the civil service he said, the basic motivation behind civil service reform was to improve service delivery for citizens and effective implementation of the government’s development agenda.
“The previous attempts of civil service reforms failed due to a lack of ownership by key stakeholders. Being cognizant of this historical fact, this time we have taken all stakeholders on board for civil service reforms. We have undertaken extensive consultations with key stakeholders, which included two annual governance forums and twenty-five stakeholders’ workshops on civil service reforms. We have consulted all relevant departments and groups of the Ministries while developing reform proposals. We have also engaged media in this process to disseminate information. Due to detailed deliberation among multiple stakeholders, we can see that this time there is a wider ownership of civil service reforms. Moreover, we have prioritized the implementation side of these reforms. Predicated on all these factors, we strongly believe these reforms are going to yield positive outcomes.”
An official from the Planning Department said that the Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS) officers, previously known as DMG officers, sitting in Prime Minister’s Secretariat, are creating hurdles for implementation of the reforms. They do not want to change the name of Establishment Division and the system of promotions.
Fawad Chaudhry, spokesperson Pakistan Thareek-e-Insaaf, said that that there is no substantial progress on the civil service reforms proposals from last one year. The former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was briefed many times on this matter. Subsequently, the cabinet gave the approval to extend the age limit to appear in CSS exam from 28 to 30 years and education qualification had also been increased from 14 years to 16 years,” he said and added that after that, no development has been witnessed yet. He further added that Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz was also briefed on the matter but silence is prevailing everywhere.
Dr Saeed Shafqat, Professor and founding Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance, said that there is growing consensus and realization that improving service delivery, performance management, civil service reform, government policy management, streamlining implementation machinery and organization of Provincial governments are the key sectors to move forward. Shafqat further notes that three recent Punjab focused civil service reform reports Kardar (2007) Laking (2007) and ADB (2009) clearly provide the direction and recommendations that need to be pursued more rigorously and systematically.
“As noted above ideally reform effort must be holistic and start from the top but there is serious lack of will, vision and commitment at the political level. That goal should not be abandoned and efforts must continue to bring to the attention of political leadership that political reform is in their enlightened self-interest and that administrative and management reform is one large and important component.”
The promise of civil service reform made by the PML stands broken.