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Is Civil Service Relevant?

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By Shahzad Cheema

This article focuses primarily on the quality of individuals who aspire to become civil servants. Do they have proper skills, qualifications, and intrinsic motivation?
Presently, monetary benefits and social prestige are the most attractive elements to attract talented professionals from any field or subject to the civil service. Civil servants require need based training to meet the modern challenges of the civil service. Are modern civil servants trained on these lines? Unfortunately, The existing system lacks it. Furthermore, that is why reforms have been such a complex and arduous job. Nevertheless, progressive reforms have never been the agenda of political executive.

The British introduced the colonial system to rule the extremely diverse subcontinent. Since1947, the same system continued because the purpose and goal were the same of the new-born aristocracy of Pakistan. Even Bhutto reforms were introduced with the same intent. The variety of services and jobs varies from local administration to foreign policy, and then highly technical revenue services were combined together under the purview of one exam called CSS. This tedious process of recruitment is quite ridiculous and impractical. Is it not ridiculous to initiate common training program for specialized services?

We continued with it until today, and the outcome is unprofessional, unskilled, and generalist civil servants. These unrealistic and unconstitutional arrangements damaged the country’s institutional framework from time to time. Military rules, quasi-military rules, and democracy, which never relate to our ground realities, further destroyed the socio-political fabric of society. It also affected the administrative structures of the state. Consequently, civil service adopted a new role of political and personal workers of the political bosses, thus compromising the neutrality and integrity of the state institutions.

Game of Thrones and survival of the fittest led to materialism, graft, intoxication, and mafias. The lifestyle and social status started attracting rural-urban professionals to the realms of bureaucracy. Professionals and students got a new fascination for the civil service, whom they elevated to the aristocracy. Nevertheless, the attraction for youth is well-placed. However, those in the job never leave the lust for civil service and want to cling as much as possible. The majority never retire because they are well-adjusted in multiple organizations, especially FPSC and four PPSCs. They indulge in training institutes, which is how they manage to bring the second generation of bureaucrats into this land of opportunities. Why is the entry of their kith and kin not investigated?

The new crop of civil servants loves excessive spending on personal interests. Foreign training, trips, and study tours are the new mode of washing off state resources without contributing to national power. With this affluent lifestyle and extended influence, the only casualty is the functionality of the civil service. Furthermore, the civil service has contracted a secret alliance with the political executive to maximize state resources and organizational interests. This practice has eroded the foundation of merit and professionalism. It is further extended to the deterioration of moral values and social culture. The other new dimension to civil service is their obsession with settling abroad. Almost all civil servants have dual nationalities. Is it fair to have dual nationalities and to sermonize the constructive national role?

Another dimension of the civil service is the family re-arrangement. Powerful civil servants try hard to absorb their children in civil service. It is easy for them because they mostly hold Federal Public Service Commission and Provincial Public Service Commissions positions. The more civil servants in the family, the more power and wealth they believe in—matrimonial alliances with the judiciary, army, and politicians make them even stronger in the power game of thrones. Making this of a powerful class has ruined the country’s institutions and compromised the merit and transparency in the civil service. Then, these civil servants are the agent of change for political parties. They are frequently asked by political parties to reform the civil service. Can they reform the civil service? Reforms will never succeed because the harshest resistance will come from the class itself. How can they let it go?

I feel perturbed to feel the mundane orientation of the new civil service class. Modern civil servants are exhibited in working. The standards and values of civil service are declining, thus compromising good governance and service delivery. Civil servants have become a client civil service to influential politicians and are compromising the natural cannons of merit and transparency. Posting obsession is rampant, and civil servants are even ready to compromise their self-respect for petty postings. Civil service has formed groupings who associate themselves with influential politicians and potentially receive better postings as a matter of reward for serving interests.

The latest process of civil service reforms carried out by Dr. Ishrat Hussain was compromised by the influential bureaucrats associated with the then prime Minister Imran Khan. The story of civil service reforms is one step forward and two steps back. Reforms must be carried out by professionals who prioritize merit over clan affiliations. Generalist civil service is outdated, and more specialized professionals may be encouraged to join civil service. Colonial orientation of the civil service should be abolished, and the constitutional position of civil service should be prioritized.
Last but not least, we must come out of this permanent syndrome. Permanency of job is the biggest hurdle in the performance of civil service. Civil service should be organized on contract policy so that vertical extensions depend on merit and progression. A system should not allow keeping civil servants for ages who lack consistent growth and performance. How can civil service remain relevant when it does not carry a check and balance of performance?

Lastly, I suggest to all civil service aspirants that civil service is not the end of life. Other professions are more compact and result-oriented than civil service.

The writer is a retired DMG officer.

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