Modernising bureaucracy: Ahsan Iqbal unveils ambitious civil service reform plan

Published: September 15, 2015
Federal Minister for planning development and reform, Ahsan Iqbal, addressing during the 2-day National Consultative Workshop on Civil Services Reform in a local Hotel. PHOTO: APP

Federal Minister for planning development and reform, Ahsan Iqbal, addressing during the 2-day National Consultative Workshop on Civil Services Reform in a local Hotel. PHOTO: APP


In a set of reforms likely to have far-reaching consequences, the government on Monday unveiled its ambitious three-year plan to overhaul the Civil Service of Pakistan, aimed at replacing the British-era structure with a system more in line with the modern economy.

The draft of the civil service reform strategy was made public at Bhurban by the planning ministry. At its core, the plan calls for a drastic overhaul of how the civil service conducts recruitment, and the manner in which bureaucrats are assigned career tracks and granted promotions.

Under the existing system, university graduates from all over Pakistan take a single entrance examination and on the basis of their grades, provincial quotas, and personal preferences, they are granted a slot in one of 12 service tracks. Selection does not take into consideration previous education. For instance, it is not necessary to have an accounting education to be inducted into the audit and accounts service.

The new system would seek to create a selection structure that would allow the government to hire specialised cadres, who would be recruited by sitting for separate, cluster-based exams for each service group. And taking into consideration increasing life expectancy, the government wants to increase the retirement age from 60.

The government also wants to end the ban on lateral entry into the civil service, allowing people in private industry to join senior government positions. “The present civil service structure has outlived its life. People’s aspirations have gone global and no government can match them with the present structure,” said Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal.

To allow the government to recruit top talent, as well as crack down on corruption, the ministry proposes offering higher salaries for civil service positions. “Extremely low salary packages are the reason for misuse of public resources,” said Iqbal. As a start, the government has allocated Rs1 billion in this year’s budget for performance-based pay for bureaucrats.

The government also wants to end seniority-based promotions and instead make them contingent on performance. “Promotion should not be a right, it should be earned through performance,” said Iqbal.

The government will create key performance indicators for each bureaucrat and at least 11 ministries have already agreed to make their employees sign new contracts where they agree to those terms.

In order to depoliticise the civil service and give civil servants time to implement the policies they initiate, the government also wants to appoint Secretaries (the highest ranking civil servant in a ministry or department) who have at least five years left until retirement.

“The final set of recommendations and the implementation timelines will be put forward for the approval of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif within this week,” said Iqbal. He said after the premier’s approval, the package will be taken to federal cabinet, with an aim to implement it from next month. The proposed recruitment plan will be implemented as early as February 2017.

In February this year, the prime minister had asked the planning ministry to come up with civil service reforms after being frequently frustrated with the pace at which bureaucrats implemented what the PM considered essential reforms.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Muhammad Ahmad
    Sep 15, 2015 - 8:47PM

    This does not seem to be a reform package rather it is more like a scheme to bring bureaucracy under full control of politicians. It will greatly politicize the bureaucracy where bureaucrats will be forced to fulfill all illegal demands of politicians if they want to get promoted. A rotten and bad plan with negative intentions.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad
    Sep 15, 2015 - 8:49PM

    This plan, if implemented will make the bureaucracy politicized, less responsive and inefficient. This will drag Pakistan back in the past rather than taking it to the modern future.Recommend

  • Sajjad
    Sep 15, 2015 - 9:22PM

    Evolution of institutions is a far needed demand, should be started from the bureaucracy, but unfortunately things under evaluation don’t consider superior in our society.Recommend

  • Munir. A.Khan
    Sep 15, 2015 - 11:08PM

    This is typicall mentality of generally politicians and specially Noon leag politicians. To control bureaucracy and handle then for their illegal and evil purposes. They say the existing system rotten where as the present system of enrollment as well as promotions is ideal and actually is performance based where as they will judge it from the other angle,how much Officer has performed as theirbslave and Servent.
    The latteral entery entry means nepotism. Where they are masters as in this government all their relatives are holding impartanat political posts and after these reforms all their sons and daughters will enjoy as grade 20 officers with extra ordinary perks and privileges ,in a way this to element middle and lower middle aeven lover class to enter in Civil Services because majority of students who qualify CSS exam come from villages and poor families and contrary to that the children of politicians study in Oxford and abroad and come back and have no such capacity to appear and pass comparative examination.Recommend

  • sanaullah
    Sep 15, 2015 - 11:35PM

    Keep it up. presently bureaucrats are like “a square peg in a round hole”. so these reform will put square into square and round into round which are their appropriate locations.Recommend

  • hammad
    Sep 16, 2015 - 10:12AM

    The reforms are good with a slight review. existing bureaucratic system is worst. a secretary health is not a professional, he doesn’t know anything about health and hygiene and you can see the standards in govt hospitals. an education secretary is never a professional in the field of education and result is clear.

    the bureaucrats implement what they have in mind and destroy the whole department yet no one can check them. misuse of vehicles, lower staff has become the distinguishing characteristic of all. there should be a performance audit and effectively a department head has solved the problems of people. The professionals should be given the chance for the management of every department.Recommend

  • nomi
    Sep 16, 2015 - 10:53AM

    Civil Service has become a Personal Service of political system because of 1973 Civil Service Act. The result of 1973 CSA is that today bureaucracy has lost capability to draw up good policies, and implement them. They are at the whim of politicians who can transfer them or post them as per their liking. There is also no pressure from the civil service to reform the system because they have learnt how to avoid accountability, and maximise their invisible perks.

    If someone is serious about CSA, then firstly it should be depoliticized – i.e. politicians should not be allowed to transfer or post government employees, secondly incentive system of middle and senior management should be changed – from large invisible perks to all monetised pay, thirdly open market competition for grade 19 and above should be introduced, and fourthly the system of universal pay should be done away with. Recommend

  • Fayyaz A. Soomro
    Sep 16, 2015 - 10:55AM

    Bringing reforms in Civil Services should have been mandate by earlier govts, but taking initiatives by the sitting govt is good omen on the part of some structural changes. The reforms should contain at least important reasons from appointment to retirement. the Govt should see what are the reasons that our youth bulge is not taking interest in CSS and other govt jobs and joining private organizations. There is no doubt that salary package being offered by Govt is one of important factor, but there is need to investigate and closely peed govt structure with realistic view. Govt organizations have traditional type of coming office and leaving it at off time without seeing any out put given by any govt official. such behavior is weakening the structure and giving no tangible out put. It is better to reconcile earlier efforts of Dr. Ishrat Hussain, a good work done during Musharaf Era and best recommendations and findings must be considered mutually for betterment of public sector in toto. Recommend

  • Sep 16, 2015 - 11:13AM

    In fact, the present system of recruitment of civil servants through CSS exam is very transparent. There is no need of lateral entry or performance based promotion. Such changes are likely to promote political corruption coupled with nepotism. They will make the bureaucrats indebted to politicians. However, the salaries of civil servants must be increased. The honest civil servants have to deliver lectures in coaching academies of CSS and PMS due to insufficient salaries.Similarly, there is a dire need of introducing the cluster system of recruitment, based on educational background. It is not advisable to appoint a law graduate in Audit and Accounts. As far as corruption, lethargic attitude and red tapism in bureaucracy concerned, they can be corrected through already existing departments like NAB, at federal level, and Anti Corruption department, at provincial level. The government must empower the latter institutions to eradicate negative trends in civil service.Recommend

  • Usman Ghazi
    Sep 16, 2015 - 12:16PM

    Reform in the civil service is long overdue. Present civil service is morally and intellectually bankrupt and simply incompetent to work a modern government. Now the government ought to be run on corporate and professional standards. Most of the civil servants do nothing and get to the very top without showing any worthwhile performance. The problem faced by politicians is that the policies made never get implemented not because of corruption but because of incompetence. One cannot name a single government department that is working properly. We allocate 80 billion to police but do we feel secure? Civil servants inducted at the start ought to go till BPS 19 only secured ter that these ought to compete with professionals from the wider market for higher positions. All countries have reformed their civil service for better delivery of service but we are still working with a structure from colonial era of sahib bahadurs. This is a welcome reform. Moreover all perks and privileges ought to be withdrawn too. There is no need for colonial master regalia in 21st century. Recommend

  • Sep 16, 2015 - 3:55PM

    i m confused… now who will be eligible…?? what is the criteria for applying and what is age limit…Recommend

    Sep 16, 2015 - 6:33PM

    We need to change Bureaucracy system in Pakistan, as the prevailing system doesn’t select competent candidates rather it selects Graduates which have crammed few subjects. Either they do have administrative skills or they misfit with seats they are entrusted. Those who have secured good score by taking Islamiat, Islamic History, Urdu, Sindhi or the subjects like sociology have been given the seats in Police, FBR, foreign affairs or they have been appointed as head of those departments which requires specific qualification.

    Unfortunately, the bureaucracy in Pakistan is the most corrupt, ineffective, incompetent and having least accountability… There is no check and balance… no body is fired due non-performance, its like once you get into the Pakistan bureaucracy your are above the LAW!! We hope that PML-N Will do something positive for the sack of our motherland.Recommend

  • Ayyaz
    Sep 16, 2015 - 7:42PM

    Lateral entry
    “Performance” based promotion
    Hiring from private sector
    Higher salary package

    All negative intentions.Recommend

  • Wajid Ali
    Sep 17, 2015 - 11:18AM

    Its means another experiment which is surely going to fail. It will further increase the misuse of power by politician. Some posts requires broader conceptual views rather than skills. For example Secretary edu has nothing to know about teaching methods. Furthermore, the infamous lateral entry system will be misused by politicain as previously done by pppp twice. If a peraon does not bother to join civil services through proper exams then he might be either incompetent or uninterested. Unprivileged people like me should abandon their hopes of joining civil services if this corrupt system was reimposed.Recommend

  • shafiq Ahmad
    Sep 17, 2015 - 8:14PM

    All right about slight changes, but who are leading and holding the current system? If it is worst than please dont touch the existing system it is made by you and your leaders who looted all before and try to make it possible to loot the remainings. it oky for a lay man because these are every day’s changes and in future these alterations will be made a routine for other all parties which will distroy all the system.Recommend

  • Rai Manzoor Nasir
    Sep 18, 2015 - 12:42PM

    The initiative to reform bureaucracy is good intention of Mr. Ahsan Iqbal but how strange it is that all the proposed reforms are already there in the form of rules. In 1973, rules were made which are valid till now that even private persons could join civil service….many resolutions passed by the provincial assemblies are waiting to be implemented only.
    Implementation, Mr. Ahsan Iqbal, is needed, if you have time, we can discuss.Recommend

  • Rai Manzoor Nasir
    Sep 18, 2015 - 12:44PM

    All proposed reforms are already there in the form of rules since decades. Only implementation is needed.Recommend

  • Saqlain Zahur Raja
    Sep 20, 2015 - 10:51AM

    To me the root cause for stagnation and detriration is faulty system ,which CSS class drives. I can share my experience of Power sector , where around 7-8 secretaries have been posted in MoWP , each came with his own understanding ,scratching the works of previuos secretary and taking a fresh start .
    They all are generalist and take a few months in starting to pick up the dynamics and by that time they are transferred. I can safely say that secretaries plays on the tunes of Companies music.
    There is a clear divide in CSS class , a few known as ICS words coined to abbreviate Ittefaaq Civil Service , dilemma is that this dichotomy is action from day one .the beloved ones Of one
    Ruling class remained dumped in the other class ..

    Another stigma of the champion Staus Qou is hard to remove .

    I’m of the view that CSS class should be eliminated all together making room for corporate functioning under strong regulatorsRecommend

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