The death of merit

Published: July 28, 2013
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

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 The weightage for the quota is also outdated as it is given on the basis of an inaccurate census.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.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Ali
    Jul 29, 2013 - 2:07AM

    Roedad? Really?


  • Qaisrani
    Jul 29, 2013 - 4:01AM

    The author seems to be biased and having no regards for under privileged communities.
    Either provide each and every corner of the country with same facilites or adjust the people from backward areas with quotas allocated for them.
    Saraikis are worst sufferers of open system in Punjab. Open merit has been introduced in each and every field in Pujab like education, jobs etc: to protect the already protected i.e. Punjabis of central Punjab. All the DC, SP’s, judiciary, army officers, they all come from Central Punjab while Saraikis have been crushed economically.
    We strongly support KPK, SIndh or Balochistan like quota system to be introduced in Punjab or bifurcation is the only soultion.


  • Malik
    Jul 29, 2013 - 4:03AM

    The quota system was introduced on the premise that there are not enough quality education facilities available all over the country, especially in the rural areas comprising Sind, Baluchistan and KP. However even after 64 years of the quota system, the vested interests, In this country and the state has failed to invest in developing the human resources of Pakistan by investing in education. It seems the powers that be are the biggest impediment to spread of education, which remains confined to select parts of the country, because of the feudals and the powerful civil bureaucracy cum Khakis in this country, for whom education is the least of priorities, in fact a field which by design is neglected. As a consequence this country has been denied the best available talent fr induction in our government services, with disastrous results such as incompetence, corruption and mediocrity running the state machinery. Quota system itself has become a hurdle in development of human resources, because it benefits the mediocre to manage grab top jobs in our bureaucracy.


  • Mehran
    Jul 29, 2013 - 5:14AM

    Quota system is big slogan for MQM. There is also quota between provinces and Federation, should we also end? Many districts of Sindh province are under poverty levels, education is weak. It is responsibility of both leading parties of Sindh, PPP and MQM to uplift all districts of Sindh, so that equal level of skill development and quality education prosper across province. Otherwise how will a Tharparkar resident compete with Karachi resident? All jobs will go into one pocket. Irony is Middle and elite class is demanding this so that poor class cant ever get entry into universities and jobs. In short, ending quota system without uplifting backward districts will create disparity and divide.


  • RAW is WAR
    Jul 29, 2013 - 6:25AM

    @ author

    It is rare to find such a discriminatory system in place anywhere in the world.

    obviously you are not aware of India’s Quota system. Here we stop competent people getting seats in colleges and Jobs based on Caste system. Our politicians are happy to keep extending this system till the ends of earth.

    This way people from some castes do not have to even study hard or get good grades to get a plushy government job. He just has to be born in that caste.


  • Jul 29, 2013 - 7:06AM

    A system which provides equal opportunity to learn, develop the skill should be preferred.
    System should allow / facilitate the job creation for the backward ( economically and education wise ). This will help develop a feeling of Nationality over the provincility & ethnicity and fill the division.


  • Roni
    Jul 29, 2013 - 8:16AM

    ZAB supported quota system. He is hanged and almost all members of his family killed. Now the political offspring of Gen Zia are in power and they themselves extended the quota system! Yet only ZAB is still responsible for all evils of today.
    As soon as quota system is extended for 20 long years, MQM extended its unconditional support to PML-N. Yet it is only PPP’s fault.
    In many countries of the world including two largest democracies USA and India there is affirmative action or quota for poor and under represented classes. Initially quota system has been good for Pakistan and these countries but with the improvement and inclusion of all classes the need is decreasing. Sharif govt should have discussed the matter in the NA and senate before making this unilateral decision for Sindh where they have almost no representation.


  • A Voice from Gilgit-Baltistan
    Jul 29, 2013 - 9:13AM

    @Author: Merit system can only prove productive when all communities sitting in the different provinces and parts of the country are all on the same page of developmen and prosperity. In Pakistan where there is economic, constitutional, resource and political disparities and discrimination across different regions and provinces, how can merit be upheld in such a situation. Lets take an example of Gilgit-Baltistan, it is not given its due constitutional rights since independence. GB people have less resources to develop themselves and compete with the rest of Pakistan. In such a case, talking of merit would be nothing less than a callous act of suppressing marginalized communities.

    Before talking of merit, first, lets talk about provision of equal resources, equal rights, equal access to quality education, equal opportunities for all communities living in Pakistan. Then, merit will be upheld itself, you do not need to impose.


  • Jul 29, 2013 - 10:42AM

    Dear Kamal Siddiqi,

    I am agree with you……………



  • M. Ahmed
    Jul 29, 2013 - 1:26PM

    If you desire improvement in governance, quota system must go. Merit is the only answer to good governance.

    Business Recorder editorial is on the same page. Please read as follows:


  • ali
    Jul 29, 2013 - 1:36PM

    very biased article. Even editor of this newspaper does not know that quota system prevails world-over. In USA UK and Australia, the people specially living in rural areas are still getting benefit of it. This is meant to accommodate and encourage the less privileged people who dont have quality education as in rural Sindh and Balochistan.
    Please try to disseminate the information before studying ground realities not merely reading statements of political parties


  • asim
    Jul 29, 2013 - 7:05PM

    The authur vision seems very short sighted. He did not discuss the merit of the rulers; who despite convicted and criminals hold top positions; The merit policy should 1st be imposed and implemented there. Please don’t become a proxy of the rulers.

    I am convinced that even a cook or a barber can run the country getting loans from IMF, WB, ADB etc. So what is the special merit adopted to place them as heads of various institutions?


  • Asghar Ramzan
    Jul 29, 2013 - 9:20PM

    [email protected] A baised article which is also telling me the domecile of author as well. create a level playing field then come with this article.
    and yes one should respect your opinion about Roadad Khan ,next time just be more carefull of what you opine.


  • Talha Rizvi
    Jul 29, 2013 - 10:32PM

    Then people complain that why the people of Karachi support MQM.It been 40 years of this system and it has resulted in a situation where even the positions of clerks and peons is filled by people of the interior what to say of higher officials.
    @ Mehran if 40 years are not enough to alleviate these areas than what will further extension do.
    @ Qaisrani as an inhabitant of Punjab you have no idea what harm it has caused to the urban populace of Sindh. One shouldn’t be meddling in the affairs of others especially if one is not aware of the facts.
    @ Asghar ramzan: So for a so-called level field semi literate people should be thrust upon an educated populace.


  • logical hardliner
    Jul 30, 2013 - 1:09AM

    i dont find anything wrong with quota system otherwise a it would be a quasi colonial system. its good to have such system in a country where education’s standard is not same in all provinces.


  • Khan
    Jul 30, 2013 - 1:43AM

    what about 40 per cent job quota MQM has been getting for last twenty years from various parties in government. Being a coalition partners of different ruling parties, it has inducted thousands of own people in police, health, eduction, KMC, Water board and even port and shipping. I will suggest you to visit Sindh secretariat you will find many MQM supporters from clerks to deputy secretaries and additional secretaries. I agree with Ali’s version to please check the ground realities before writing some things.


  • Anonymus
    Jul 30, 2013 - 2:06AM

    why you blocked my comments as they indicate history of quota system, how quota system has benfitted people who are compalining now, before and after partition.Recommend

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