A guide to the CSS: Want to change Pakistan? Try joining the government as an honest bureaucrat

Published: April 25, 2011
Last year, only 37 people from Sindh passed the exam out of about 900 who qualified countrywide. PHOTO: FILE

Last year, only 37 people from Sindh passed the exam out of about 900 who qualified countrywide. PHOTO: FILE


In the last decade, fewer and fewer candidates for the CSS (Central Superior Services) exam have passed the gruelling test to join the ranks of that elite layer of bureaucrats that runs Pakistan. Fifteen per cent of candidates qualified the written part in 2008 but only eight per cent could do so in 2009. This is a shame because if you pass the exam, you can provide at least three decades of what can be exceedingly rewarding public service.

Last year, about 12,000 people sat the test but only eight per cent of them qualified for 388 jobs. The number of people trying out for the government goes up each year but more and more candidates are failing. In fact, because the men and women from Sindh and Balochistan don’t make it through their quota is handed over to people from the rest of the country. For example, last year only 37 people from Sindh passed the exam out of about 900 who qualified countrywide. Sindh had approximately 145 seats but only 37 got in. As a result, 108 seats went to successful candidates from the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, a lot of young people dismiss government service. They are worried about getting sucked into what they perceive as a wholly corrupt system. Indeed, there is corruption in the higher echelons of bureaucracy just as there are in any other field. However, on a closer look one will find that most corruption cases are reported against irregular and ex-cadre appointments and rarely CSS officers. There are many CSS officers who refuse to compromise their integrity and prefer postings on the sidelines. Most of them are scrupulously above-board like one officer who would not keep the official car after office hours and another bureaucrat, a former chairman of the FBR, who used to travel to Lahore in a Daewoo bus to be with his family.

When, who, how

The CSS exam is held regularly each year and a large number of people appear in it. The prestige and standard of this examination are challenging and require rigorous and sustained preparation.

The exam is held to recruit officers to grade 17 of the All Pakistan Unified Grades that go up to grade 22. The officers are slotted into 12 groups — Commerce and Trade, Customs and Excise, District Management Group, Foreign Service of Pakistan, Income Tax, Information Group, Military Land and Cantonments, Office Management, Pakistan Audit and Accounts Service, Police Service of Pakistan, Postal Group and Railways Group.

You have to be at least 21 years old and a maximum of 28 years old to sit the exam. You need a minimum of a second-class graduate degree of Pakistan or an equivalent foreign qualification. You are allowed to attempt the exam three times.

Successful candidates are allocated jobs on the basis of merit and provincial or regional quotas. They are: Merit (7.5 per cent), Punjab (including the Islamabad Capital Area) (50 per cent), Sindh (rural) (11.4 per cent), Sindh (urban) (7.6 per cent), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (11.5 per cent), Balochistan (6 per cent), Gilgit-Baltistan and FATA (4 per cent) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (2 per cent).

Women have a 10 per cent and minorities a five per cent quota from the share of the provinces and regions, excluding the merit quota. The examination is held simultaneously in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Abbottabad, D I Khan, Muzaffarabad and Skardu.

The exam

The examination is made up of a written part based on six compulsory and six optional subjects totalling 1,200 marks and a psychological test and viva voce carrying 300 marks. The usual aggregate for qualifying the examination is 50 per cent. If you pass, you are chosen for the groups according to your merit position, provincial quota and suitability requirements as determined by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), the statutory body mandated to conduct this examination.

The written examination is usually held in February every year and its result comes out in or around the month of September. This is followed by psychological test, a viva voce and medical test.

The selected candidates become probationary officers and are sent to train at the Civil Service Academy in Lahore followed by departmental training.

The general trend is to take social science subjects dealing with history, politics, public administration and international relations because their subject material is similar to that of the compulsory subjects. Since graduates qualify to take the examination, the questions asked are commensurate with that level of qualification. Candidates need to answer in English, although the Islamiat paper can also be answered in Urdu.

The writer is a retired diplomat who has also held the post of Director-General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He runs a training forum for CSS exam preparation.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Billoo Bhaya
    Apr 25, 2011 - 11:30AM

    No one with any brain cells wants to join or work in the Government. I was in the DMG and I resigned within 1 year. I could not survive on my salary. I immediately joined a multi-national after resigning and within no time I was posted overseas and have remained so ever since. All my batch mates have been Federal Secretaries. None of them have been able to do anything good for the nation, except become corrupt. So you are offering wrong advice to would be aspirants. You should tell them to do something in the private sector. Recommend

  • Asmat Jamal
    Apr 25, 2011 - 11:57AM

    CSS is one organization where you may find one odd honest officer, other wise it has become the biggest den of termites eating into the vitals of Pakistan. It has consumed this country from inside out.
    Any state and every state runs on a good bureaucracy, but Pakistani bureaucracy is the recipe of disaster. Give them any organization and in few years time you will find its broken skeleton. They have become so barefaced that no amount of advise or lament will transform them. They start gobbling what ever comes their way, since they are employed till they land in their graves. One of most detested class of selfish people who are willing to set aside principles and personal integrity in order to obtain self-seeking motives.
    From Patwari to Chief Secretary and from section officer to Secretary they need to be reformed.Recommend

  • muzaffar
    Apr 25, 2011 - 12:32PM

    Difficult to agree with the honesty factor. However, I think the problem is also the manner in which the work is done. Unfortunately, files are compiled but the decision making process is next to nothing. No body wants to take the responsibility . And tghe work done is only if a phone call is made or there is pressure from the top.
    Further, all most of the officers especially the senior ones are busy in using a contact to get themselves promoted or posted to a place which they want. Unfortunately, the situation is more complex thn exlained by the author.Recommend

  • Sa'ad Abbasi
    Apr 25, 2011 - 2:14PM

    If you want to do something for the country join a political party! What good can a paper pusher be of?Recommend

  • M A Siddiqi
    Apr 25, 2011 - 3:37PM

    This is just to rectify a factual error and not a comment on such outpouring of grief!! The seats allocated to a province/region not filled in a year are carried over and included in the quota of that province/region for next year and are not allocated to other provinces/regions. Ahmed Faraz succinctly pointed out the prevalent cynicism in Pakistan and advised ” Shikwa-e-zulmat-e-shab se tau kahin behtar tha…. Apne hissay ki koi shamma jalate jaate. Recommend

  • Nadir El-Edroo
    Apr 26, 2011 - 3:44AM

    There is also so much demotivation. So many cases of people making their way up the grades, and once they reach a point to attain an office of responsibility, they find that a certain retired general, or political appointee is parachuted in. The foreign office is a case in point, where career officers are forced to make way for this or that “saab” and his ambassadorship. Recommend

  • anny
    Apr 26, 2011 - 4:52PM

    gud info, no mater hw much our system exceed to corruption but i still think positive n i will appear in this exam in 2012…..

    always hope for best……….Recommend

  • Zulfikar
    Apr 27, 2011 - 12:00AM

    Well…! discussion is very important & interesting, the corruption will not remain at last, one day it will be eradicate by someone & we should be optimistic about it.Recommend

  • IZ
    May 12, 2011 - 12:09PM

    Thanks for this useful post. To the critical people who have commented above, I would like to point out that if you advise all the honest and idealistic people to avoid CSS then of course you will only end up with the corrupt. The author is correct that CSS needs to attrack more and better talent if the performance of the government is to improve.Recommend

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