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Is Merit-based Recruitment Possible in Pakistan? Part-II

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by Muhammad Zubair Part-II

Policy Alternatives

Option 1: The status quo may be an option, only ensuring that no violation of the merit-based provisions of law, Recruitment Policy, Civil Servants (Appointment & Conditions of Service) Rules, etc is made and appointments are made strictly on merit under the existing arrangement.

Option 2: This option is generally exercised by the government when it fails to accommodate all the coalition partners and cannot concede their demands for quotas in recruitment. This option requires imposition of ban on the general recruitment and any essential recruitment is made in relaxation of the ban after approval of the chief minister in case of recruitment against provincial posts and of the prime minister in case of posts falling in the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Option 3: The specialised bodies for recruitment, i.e. the Commissions, should make all the appointments — be they are made on regular or contract basis — and conduct the whole exercise of recruitment from advertising and holding written tests and interviews to final selection. Being autonomous bodies and having the requisite expertise, these Commissions are well placed to conduct the recruitment process in a professional and objective manner.

Status quo option

This policy option sounds plausible as it will not require extra resources and only calls for strict implementation of merit-based provisions of the law by the government officers who conduct the recruitment process in most cases through departmental selection committees. This status quo option assumes that the real problem lies only in implementation, which can be improved through punctilious observance of eligibility criteria and procedural formalities. It does not take into account other essentials like the expertise and objectivity that government departments generally do not have to make recruitment. This simplistic option also ignores the amount of extraneous pressures that government officials face from their own rulers while making recruitment. If they refuse to oblige the ruling party or its coalition partners, they get transferred and replaced by the officials who are in line. This option therefore exposes government officials/officers to unnecessary pressures besides challenging their integrity. Moreover maintaining status quo will mean postponing a due and doable change. If a review of an ineffective policy is to be eventually made, it is better to do it early to reap early dividends. Because the persons recruited in violation of merit under the current dispensation are prone to corruption, this option costs the society dearly. As the policy has all along been ineffective, it is no use hoping in vain that strict implementation of the existing policy would rectify the situation. Moreover, the status quo option is against the principles of equity and fairness, may call into question the government’s integrity and credibility, and may prove politically suicidal in the long-run.

Stop-gap option

This alternative is a stop-gap arrangement which is generally exercised to avoid illegal influences wielded by the coalition partners of the government which in turn pressurises their own officers to oblige. This option requires imposition of ban on the recruitment process and recruitment is made only in rare cases after seeking approval of the chief executive (the chief minister in case of provinces and prime minister for posts falling in the purview of the federal government). This policy has a short-term effect.

There are instances that governments did not lift ban on recruitment during their whole tenures. Therefore, this policy on the one hand eliminates job opportunities for fresh graduates (hence it’s against equity), while on the other provides the government opportunity to abdicate the responsibility of hiring human resource essentially required to run the government business efficiently. As such this leads to low productivity in the government sector creating inconvenience for the public at large. Further this option is no permanent solution to avoiding extraneous pressures or blackmailing by coalition partners[1]. Adoption of this policy suggests that the government is not forthcoming to address the issue, which calls into question its ability to tackle issues. Such evasion can cost a government it credibility and popular support. This policy fails to work also because it gives rise to persistent public demand and constant pressure from coalition partners on the government to lift the ban. Therefore this policy option is neither politically acceptable nor robust, requiring the government to solve the problem once and for all by making an appropriate policy change.

Option 3 (Placing the work where it belongs)

This option presupposes that it is not advisable to leave recruitment in the hands of bureaucrats who are appointing authorities in most of the cases and can likely be “motivated by power consolidation and domain expansion”[2]. Instead the specialised bodies like the Federal Public Service Commission and Provincial Public Service Commissions are better placed to conduct the recruitment process on merit. Being special and autonomous, these institutions are therefore less vulnerable to government pressures, and have more chances of working independent of illegal influences. Their expertise and experience in making recruitments and appointments enable them to discharge this responsibility in a professional and objective manner.

On the one hand this option will spare the government pressures it faces from its own MPs and allies while on the other it will ensure merit-based recruitment. It is a choice surely to be popular with the public. Even the politicians will be safer; they would be able to justify to their voters and supporters that it’s now beyond their control to get recruitment quota. They will say that the recruitment process is independent of even the government which itself is not in a position to influence the Commissions. Then the Commissions are held in high esteem by the public at large for their merit-ensuring credentials. Secure in the knowledge that fair and professional Commissions are in place to watch their interest, the public at large would most probably not pressurise their representatives for recruitments and appointments against merit. Actually if some people demand that their representatives arrange recruitment against merit, they do so because they know that such recruitments/appointments against merit are the order of the day, and if they are not able to pressurise their representatives to get appointed, other persons more influential would get themselves appointed instead. Thus once the Commissions take charge of the whole recruitment process, the people will actually be happier with the belief that no influential person can infringe on their rights. Besides being credible, this policy option is also very efficient and effective because the government would be able to achieve the desired result (merit-based appointments) at much lower cost with professional and expert bodies making recruitments (economies of scale and scope). It will also be politically acceptable as every popular decision is supposed to be.

The Commissions have adequate authority, capability, institutional commitment and organizational support of the administrative system to implement the policy. The long time horizon, the job security and expertise of the Commissions’ officials “would shield them from political pressure, such as winning elections or maintaining parliamentary coalitions”[3]. As for financial resources, the commissions would generate their own resources as it charges a fair amount of fee from applicants/candidates for recruitment process and while conducting more recruitment exercises it will generate more resources. Moreover, the government can also do some re-appropriation in budgets as the budget allocated to human resources cells in each department can be reallocated to the Commissions and the staff of these cells may also be transferred or deputed to the Commissions to enhance their human resource for successful implementation of the proposed policy. Thus the staff[4] and financial resources are the variables that can be manipulated by policy intervention. This policy will provide consistency to the Constitution, existing laws, rules and policies and allow room for improvement through building capacities of the Commissions. With public confidence in recruitment restored, this policy will improve high public participation rate[5]. Moreover this policy option has the elements of both rational decision making model and populist model – a rare combination.


To be continued

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