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Reforming Public Sector Recruitment in Pakistan

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By Muhammad Zubair

A substantial chunk of recruitment especially against contract and low-grade posts is not made on merit in Pakistan. 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 for the army to take over, which has remained in power 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. 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. However public representatives still influence the recruitment process and manage the recruitment of some candidates against merit. Recruitment of choice persons in the police and revenue departments 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 the recruitment process. Being groomed in authoritarian regimes during which the military created a partnership with them to run the government, they are shrewd enough to do so while apparently maintaining a semblance of merit, given they are custodians 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. 

The Federal Public Service Commission and four Provincial Public Service Commissions are the specialized bodies to fill in the vacant posts on receipt of requisition from the relevant Ministry/Division/Department. 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 was made on regular basis. However, during former President Musharraf’s regime (1999-2008), the government generally shifted from the 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”. As such many posts earlier filled in through the Commissions fell beyond their purview after shifting to the contract mode of appointment. Therefore, with the advent of the 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 the violation of merit. Candidates who managed to get jobs through unfair means were prone to corruption, which was already rampant. Therefore this problem of recruitment against merit contributed substantially to overall corruption and has been perpetuating the corrupt order in 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 the support of people in the general election by promising them jobs. Once in power, members of parliament are forced to influence the recruitment process, especially in the 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 specialized bodies for making recruitment on behalf of the government against the posts to be filled in on a 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 the recruitment process for all the posts.

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. 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”. 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”. 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 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. Moreover this policy option has the elements of both rational decision making model and populist model – a rare combination.

Policy Recommendations: Because of the foregoing considerations, option 3 is the best one that places the work where it belongs. Recruitment cannot be left to the mercy of bureaucrats who are vulnerable to both extraneous pressures and their inner temptations to “domain expansion”[14]. To implement this option, the Federal Public Service Commission and Provincial Public Service Commissions should be strengthened and their capacities built to conduct the whole exercise of recruitment from advertising and holding written tests and interviews to final selection.

Federal & Provincial Public Service Commissions are constitutional bodies according to Article 242 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Subsequent legislation to the constitutional provision has also been enacted. The Federal and Provincial ordinances of FPSC and PPSC are enacted for the recruitment of federal and provincial posts. Therefore, FPSC and PPSC are constitutionally empowered to recruit for posts connected with the affairs of the federation and provinces. However, there is a need to strengthen the Federal and Provincial ordinances to ensure merit-based recruitment. Almost all, posts may be recruited by the commissions and it can be achieved by extending the operations of commissions to the level of districts. Extended operations of commissions shall ensure proficient working and also solve the laborious operations of the commissions.  

Why is it essential to recruit on merit? Merit-based recruitment is a sacred responsibility of the state. It is the fundamental right of the youth to have equal and equitable opportunities in the domain of transparent recruitment. Corrupt practices of recruitment shall dis-enchant the youth. It will frustrate their talent and trust. Rule of law and justice are always the cardinal of a just state and society. Last but not the least, there must not be any compromise on merit-based recruitment.

All references quoted in the article are explained below. 

[1] There is no statistical data estimating the percentage of recruitment so made.

[2] Judgment dated 19.01.1993 in Human Rights Case No. 104 of 1992, the Supreme Court of Pakistan. 

[3] It may be noted that according to the service/recruitment rules, bureaucrats are the appointing authorities in most cases. Only in a few cases of top positions, the chief executive (the chief minister in the case of a province and the prime minister in the topic of the federal government) is the appointing authority. Therefore the misuse of this authority can at times prove too tempting to resist. 

[4] Under the Chapter titled “Fundamental Rights” of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 equality of citizens and safeguard against discrimination in services have been guaranteed. Article 25 of the Constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law while article 27 provides that no citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against. The recruitment Policy does not allow the appointment of any person in violation of procedural formalities. No relaxation of qualification, experience, physical criteria, etc. is allowed under the rules. 

[5]General Recruitment, Federal Public Service Commission, www.fpsc.gov.pk

[6] General Recruitment, Federal Public Service Commission, www.fpsc.gov.pk

[7] Contract Appointment Policy 2004, Services & General Administration Department, Government of Punjab.

[8] According to the latest ‘National Corruption Perception Survey-2010’ of Transparency International, there is an enormous rise in corruption in Pakistan from Rs 195 billion in 2009 to Rs 223 billion in 2010

[9] No single big party in Pakistan can form the government without the support of coalition partners (generally small parties). Therefore the big parties are but to cater to the demands of small parties to keep intact a coalition government. 

[10]Bidhya Bowornwathana, Administrative reform, and the Politician-Bureaucrat Perspective: Visions, Processes, and Support for the Reform

[11] Policy Process: Political and Institutional Context for Policy Analysis

[12] Federal/Provincial Civil Servants (Appointment & Conditions of Service) Rules, 1974 provide for the transfer or deputation of government employees to autonomous bodies (e.g. the Commissions) and already many officials are working with the autonomous bodies on deputation. Therefore, such a policy would not be a big departure from the previous practice and hence will be easy to implement. 

[13] Many potential candidates do not apply for jobs in the government sector because they do not have any political recommendation without which they think it applying for a job is an exercise in futility. That’s why the government sector has witnessed brain drain over the last two or so decades. 

[14]Bidhya Bowornwathana, Administrative reform, and the Politician-Bureaucrat Perspective: Visions, Processes, and Support for the Reform.

The writer is a civil servant and holds expertise in public management.

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