Retiring incompetent civil servants

These rules are indeed a step in the right direction and would help in jolting the civil servants out of their slumber

Hasaan Khawar May 05, 2020
The writer is a public policy expert and an honorary Fellow of Consortium for Development Policy Research. He tweets @hasaankhawar

The government has notified new retirement rules for civil servants, creating a paranoia in the bureaucratic circles. Many believe that these rules are aimed at weeding out the dead wood and may prove to be a precursor to an unceremonious early exit for them.

There are a number of questions surrounding the recently notified Civil Servants (Directory Retirement from Service) Rules, 2020. Early retirement was already allowed under the Civil Servants Act 1973, yet the provision was never exercised at least in the last three decades. If the law itself couldn’t make it happen, how come these rules will? Moreover, the Federal Shariat Court reversed one such case of early retirement in 1987, which was later upheld by the Supreme Court. When more than a decade later, General Musharraf introduced the Removal from Services Ordinance in the year 2000 to achieve similar objectives, most of such removals under his ordinance were reversed by the courts. With all this baggage, are these new rules likely to stand the test of judicial scrutiny?

It is true that that Section 13(1)(i) of Civil Servants Act had long empowered the government to retire civil servants after 20 years of service. But such powers generally need a defining framework to be exercised objectively. In the absence of a clear process and criteria, it was easier for the courts to strike down subjective applicability of this clause. Moreover, the courts took an exception to not giving a chance to aggrieved parties to defend themselves. The new Retirement Rules have addressed these legal lacunas, specifying clear criteria for early retirement such as having three average or adverse performance evaluation reports (PERs), two-time supersession or placement in ‘category C’ by the promotion board, conviction on charges of corruption, or being part of a plea bargain or voluntary return, or even general misconduct. The rules also lay out a clear process and provide opportunities for personal hearing and a right to appeal. With such a transparent criteria and process, it seems that these rules do indeed have a far greater chance to withstand judicial scrutiny.

The next question is how serious the government is in actually making use of these rules. Soon after the notification of these rules, the Prime Minister’s Office directed the federal secretaries to carry out a review of their ministries and identify all qualifying cases for early retirement. This certainly implies seriousness on the government’s part to follow through with the implementation of these rules.

But expecting these rules to weed out the dead wood is still a far cry. The conditions for early retirement in the rules may seem quite exhaustive, but in reality, these are likely to be applicable on only a handful of civil servants. In any given year, on average not more than 5% of officers get below average or average PERs or adverse remarks. Those, who have managed to get three such reports over their careers are a rare breed. Similarly, convictions of corruption or being a party to plea bargain or voluntary return should be enough grounds in themselves for dismissal from service and not an excuse for premature retirement. Other conditions should be sufficient on their own for early retirement and the government shouldn’t have to wait for 20 years to exercise them.

These rules are indeed a step in the right direction and would help in jolting the civil servants out of their slumber. But these are not likely to immediately remove scores of inefficient and low-performing officers. The fact remains that civil service provides ample opportunities to incompetent officers for hiding behind decent performance evaluation reports, staying clear of corruption allegations and even managing regular promotions, without doing much work.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2020.

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