Growing size of government burdens exchequer

Cabinet asked to abolish posts lying vacant for over a year, repeat exercise every year

Zafar Bhutta May 18, 2021


Despite the federal bureaucracy costing the national exchequer nearly Rs500 billion, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has stayed away from freezing recruitment of lower-level staff.

The federal bureaucracy was costing the exchequer Rs175 billion about a decade ago, which has now jumped to Rs500 billion. However, the government has ratified the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Institutional Reforms to abolish 71,000 posts lying vacant for a year.

During a meeting of the cabinet held last month, the growing size of the federal government was highlighted. The cost of the federal bureaucracy, it was pointed out, had walloped from Rs175 billion in 2010 to around Rs500 billion, despite the fact that after the 18th Amendment most of the subjects had been devolved to provinces.

The decision of the Cabinet Committee on Institutional Reforms (CCIR) to freeze recruitments in BS 1-16 pay scales, except for essential services, was objected to by several cabinet members. They developed a consensus that only recruitments on posts lying vacant for more than a year should be banned.

The cabinet decided to abolish 71,000 posts lying vacant for a year or more. The CCIR had also recommended repeating this exercise every year at the time of budget formulation.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity Dr Ishrat Husain briefed the cabinet on the size, growth and functions of the federal government.

In respect to the “Functional Classification of Federal Government Employees”, which was part of the agenda, he highlighted several issues.

Size of federal government

The federal government (Secretariat and attached departments) had a total strength of 565,000 in 2019-20. Of the total, 13,000 were in the Secretariat, 8,000 in constitutional bodies and 544,000 were in attached departments.

In addition, 390,000 were working in autonomous, semi-autonomous bodies, corporations, etc. The total size of civilian employees stood at 955,000.

He pointed out that 95% of federal government employees belonged to grades 1-16 or staff position salaries and allowances paid to these employees accounted for 80-85% of the total wage bill of the federal government.

In 2010-11, the total number of federal employees was 829,000 and this strength remained largely steady until 2016-17, when a sudden jump of 137,000 new entrants took place, raising the total number to 966,000.

Most of the new recruitments - 116,000 (85%) - took place in the federal government (Secretariat and attached departments) while the increase in autonomous bodies came in at 21,000.

The present government, for the first time in a decade, reduced the strength by around 27,000 in 2019-20.

Impact of re-organising federal government

The impact of re-organising the federal government, approved by the cabinet in July 2019, can be assessed by comparing the total employees’ strength in 2019-20 to fiscal year 2018-19.

There has been a decrease of 26,641 in the federal government and autonomous bodies in 2019-20.

In terms of budgetary savings, the pay and allowances of civil administration of the federal government show a decrease of Rs4 billion in 2019-20 in nominal terms and much larger savings of Rs28 billion in real terms.

The savings of autonomous bodies and corporations could not be ascertained.

He suggested that the strength and structure of the civilian armed forces may be reviewed. He further said that the heavy concentration of support staff may be reviewed and divisions may be advised to bring this ratio to 1:3.

He further recommended that the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Implementation for abolishing 71,000 posts lying vacant for a year or more may be ratified and this exercise be repeated every year at the time of the budget formulation.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2021.

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