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

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An article by Muhammad Zubair ( Part-1)

A substantial chunk of recruitment especially against contract and low-grade posts is not made on merit in Pakistan[1]. A country beset with political instability right from the beginning, the echelons of power have been occupied by feudal lords and vested interests who indulged in palatial intrigues and political wrangling. This uncertainty and instability provided justification to the army to take over, which has remained in power for three times, each stint extending around 10 years. This musical chairs game did not allow consistent policies or let institutions grow. When politicians come into power they are in a hurry to satiate their hunger for power as very few governments have been able to complete their five-year terms. 

On the other hand, people wanted jobs and their first demand from their representatives has been jobs for them or for their kinsfolk. The politicians who are unable to live up to such expectations of their voters are considered weak and lose support. That’s why members of parliament had been demanding recruitment quotas, which the Supreme Court of Pakistan abolished in a human rights case[2]. However public representatives still influence recruitment process and manage recruitment of some candidates against merit. Recruitment of choice persons in the police and revenue department has enabled politicians to have a strong network of influence and support in important departments. 

On the other hand, if politicians do not influence the recruitment process, there is every chance that bureaucrats may manipulate recruitment process[3]. Being groomed in authoritarian regimes during which military created partnership with them to run the government, they are shrewd enough to do so while apparently maintaining a semblance of merit, given they are custodian of important information and are well-conversant with the lacunae in the rules and regulations and the eligibility criteria. At times politicians and bureaucrats collude with each other to undermine merit, which is against the Constitution of Pakistan[4]

The Federal Public Service Commission and four Provincial Public Service Commissions are the specialised bodies to fill in the vacant posts on receipt of requisition from the relevant Ministry/Division/Department[5][6]. They are generally restricted to arranging competitive exams for civil servants and for regular/permanent recruitments. 

In the past, contract appointments were made against a few selected posts while the bulk of appointments in the government sector were made on regular basis. However, during the former President Musharraf’s regime (1999-2008), the government generally shifted from regular mode of appointment to the contract mode in view of “the changing management practices and to achieve the goals of good governance in public sector departments/organizations”[7]. As such many posts earlier filled in through the Commissions fell beyond their purview after shift to the contract mode of appointment. Therefore, with the advent of contract mode of appointment, the scope for the Commissions was further reduced and most of the recruitments were left at the mercy of bureaucrats and politicians. They neither had the capacity to resist extraneous pressures nor the expertise of specialised recruitment bodies. Thus this arrangement was vulnerable to violation of merit. Candidates who themselves managed to get jobs through unfair means were prone to corruption, which was already rampant[8]. Therefore this problem of recruitment against merit contributed substantially to overall corruption and has been perpetuating the corrupt order in the society. 

The continual shift of power from civilian governments to army regimes and vice versa in Pakistan has not allowed civil institutions to grow properly. When politicians come into power, the first demand that people generally have from their representatives is jobs. Intending public representatives win support of people in the general election by promising them jobs. Once in power, members of parliament are but forced to influence recruitment process, especially in case of contract and non-gazetted posts. If the recruitment process escapes political influence, it may be manipulated by bureaucrats. There are also instances of collusion between politicians and bureaucrats to manoeuvre recruitment. 

On the other hand, Federal Public Service Commission and four Provincial Public Service Commissions (hereinafter referred to as the Commissions) are the specialised bodies for making recruitment on behalf of the government against the posts to be filled in on permanent/regular basis after competitive examination. These bodies have a good track record of ensuring merit. 

The status quo is perpetuating the corrupt order. The government every now and then also imposes ban on recruitment to avoid extraneous pressure, which is not a permanent solution to the problem. The only viable option is to assign the role of making all recruitment, both contract and regular, to the Commissions which have the expertise to do the job in an objective manner. Therefore, these Commissions should be strengthened and their capacities enhanced to conduct recruitment process for all the posts.

To be continued.

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