ISLAMABAD: Efforts made by three different bodies to reform structure of civil service and the recruitment process of civil servants have not yielded any fruit and been put into cold storage.
It was the government and then two special parliamentary committees that took steps to reform the bureaucracy and improve the way it is being inducted, trained and made to execute.
Several bureaucrats hoped to see some changes in ‘archaic bureaucratic system’ after these apparent efforts but have expressed disappointment over the zero outcome.
It was in 2017 when the then Senate chairperson Raza Rabbani formed two special committees within a short span of time – Senate Committee on Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) Report of 2015 and Senate Committee to Review Civil Servants Act 1973.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Farooq H Naek was chairperson of the first committee to review civil servants act. The committee held over half a dozen meetings and held detailed discussion with the Establishment Division and officials of the FPSC and Ministry of Law and Justice.
But before the committee could finalise anything in writing, the term of the committee expired on April 11 and all the hard work was lost.
The committee had discussed key issues about civil servants including their postings and transfers for a minimum time of three years in a ministry so that the official could connect with the department.
The committee had also held detailed discussion on promotion criteria and the way central selection board is held for promotion from grade-18 to grade-19 and grade-19 to grade-20. It had recommended that there should be no arbitrary marks that become a blackmailing tool during the board meeting.
According to an official privy to those meetings, it was an important opportunity many would yearn in coming years. “It seemed there would be some genuine changes in the bureaucratic system but we lost it,” said the official, who was not authorised to talk to media.
The second committee was also formed by Senate to review the FPSC report of 2015. According to that report, as many as 9,643 candidates sat the written test of CSS. However, only 202, or 2.09%, qualified the test. This was the lowest percentage of successful students since 2011, leaving both students and public all over the country shocked.
The committee started looking into the mandate, structure, syllabus and mode of examination to see if it met the contemporary needs of governance and in delivery of services and other relevant matters.
It invited human resources specialists and corporate experts to improve the structure of the FPSC commission and its working mechanism which it had termed in its first meetings as ‘outdated’.
Senator Muzaffar Husain Shah was its chairperson and the mighty chief got into the nitty-gritty of the civil service recruitment process. The committee had recommended starting specialised and separate exams for 12 civil service groups held under FPSC.
It was of the view that any candidate appearing in exam must have a specialised group and the same should follow even if he joins civil service. The committee also suggested screening test for the CSS aspirants.
The committee had carried out comparative studies of competitive examinations in regional and developed countries such as India, Bangladesh, the UK and Canada. Senator Shah and other senators had held discussion on the issue at length but the panel also met the similar fate for time constraint.
Shah told The Express Tribune that if the committees are reconstituted then he would see if the matter could be taken up again. “I would like to carry it forward,” he said but the tradition in parliament is the other way round and new agenda items are taken after the formation of new committees.
One of the major efforts in civil service reforms and improvement of the governance structure within civil services was initiated in 2014 and completed in 2016. But political wrangling and red-tapism superseded, hence relegating the matter into cold storage.
The reforms process eventually lost steam after interest at the top level faded as the political upheaval in the country during this time literally killed the ambitious plan to revamp civil service structure.
Major reforms in government’s plan included two-stage entry examinations for the CSS to screen applicants for written test; cluster-based entry examinations; increasing the age for CSS from 28 to 30 (being practiced since 2017); changes in civil service training, restructuring several divisions and cadres; and performance management and evaluation.
So far, the country’s civil services have witnessed as many as 38 major reform initiatives between 1947 and 2018. But most of them have not been much successful for several reasons.
A senior official in the Establishment Division said the dream of reforms had shattered and it would take more than a year for the next government to start with such efforts.
“It’s more than disappointing,” he lamented.