Merit has been murdered again. This week the cabinet, presided over by our PM, extended the quota system by 20 years. This system determines direct recruitment to the federal government. No one raised a hue and cry despite the fact that this will have far reaching consequences for the running of the country. Those parties who claim in their manifesto that merit should be the only criteria for selection or appointment to any government job remained silent spectators.
It is rare to find such a discriminatory system in place anywhere in the world. Our system favours people being hired on the basis of where they are domiciled over merit.
It doesn’t make a difference that the quota system goes against the spirit of our own constitution. Article 27 of the 1973 Constitution provides safeguards against discrimination in services on grounds of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth. But this is exactly what the quota system does.
This article has been amended by our ever resourceful law makers in the form of the provision of Article 27(1). The amendment envisages that “in the interest of national integrity and harmony,” adequate representation in the service of Pakistan for persons belonging to any class or area is only possible when the period is further extended.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If one looks at it, national integrity and harmony are not served by the quota system. Many parts of the country remain unrepresented in federal service. Merit should be the sole criteria. The weightage for the quota is also outdated as it is given on the basis of an inaccurate census.
The quota system was first introduced in 1949. Some say that it made sense at the time. A newly created Pakistan inherited only one Indian Civil Services officer at the time of its creation and wanted to encourage representation to those from different areas. But East Pakistan was neglected under this system. And we saw the result. Our resourceful bureaucrats amended the quota system even further when recruitment was made from other provinces on the grounds that “local competent persons” could not be found. This happened in Sindh and Balochistan in many instances.
With the killing of merit as the sole criteria of selection into government service, what we have seen in the past two decades is a complete degeneration of the quality of inductees into the country’s civil services. It is one thing to encourage people from backward areas or deprived backgrounds, as seen in India where scheduled castes are given some incentive, it is another to run the whole recruitment process on the basis of a system where your place of birth and not your competence determines whether you work for the government and in which branch.
There are two other aspects in the system that go against the citizens of the state. Punjab holds 50% of the jobs in the country. The 10% of merit seats come out of the other 50% which is divided amongst the other provinces.
Also, thanks to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Sindh is the only province where urban and rural seats are classified separately for recruitment at federal level. It was this classification that has helped divide Sindh on ethnic lines. It helped sparked the first language riots in the province.
The system has been in place for the 40 years, but many are questioning whether it has delivered what it set out to achieve. What we needed was a complete overhaul of the system and an in-depth analysis of the policy’s outcome. A high level commission should have been set up, as recommended by super bureaucrat Roedad Khan, to examine whether such a policy helped the country or hindered it’s growth. It certainly has stopped us from producing bureaucrats of the callibre of Roedad Khan and Kunwar Idrees.
For his part, Kunwar Idrees insists that a quota system should be for backward areas not for the whole country. But no one is listening. Thanks to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet, we will continue to hire people of one province over another with no regard for merit. And then we complain that the government is not delivering.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2013.