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Civil Service Reform: Old Wine In The New Bottle

 Improving the civil service requires an end to political interference and the creation of a fair system for promotions and retirements with minimal human bias, departmental loyalty, political interference, and the role of intelligence agencies.

Photo source: FSA

The PTI government has recently announced new laws on promotions, discipline, and forced retirement in the name of civil service reform. Under these laws, promotions, dismissals, and breaches of discipline, and forced retirement of government employees have been legalized. But a closer look at these new laws reveals nothing new or far-reaching.

These changes do not seem to be much different from the laws of the Musharraf era. Surprisingly, the Civil Service Reform Task Force, after working for more than 900 days, has only been able to bring about this aesthetic change.

Why did it take so long to serve this old wine in a new bottle? There seems to be a serious lack of rethinking, and innovation in the incumbent reform agencies set up by the present government, including the Task Force, the Secretaries’ Committee, the Special Assistant to the Establishment, and the Cabinet Committee on Education.

Of course, there is an urgent need for reform in the civil service, but if the government’s intention is to provide for the promotion of like-minded officers and forced retirement of officers who refuse to obey to incumbent political masters, then such reforms can never be sustainable.

Surprisingly, the Civil Service Reform Task Force, after working for more than 900 days, has only been able to bring about this aesthetic change.

We have seen the result of these reforms in the recent era of Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif and in the present PTI government in which like-minded people have been given rapid promotions and capable but undesirable officers have been subjected to various fabricated allegations including incompetence, corruption and Promotions were denied on the basis of false intelligence reports.

Improving the civil service requires an end to political interference and the creation of a fair system for promotions and retirements with minimal human bias, departmental loyalty, political interference, and the role of intelligence agencies.

If we have an uncontroversial system of promotions in our forces and the army can make progress from the second lieutenant to lieutenant general without the interference of political leadership or the government’s different views on these officers, then a similar system in which promotion or demotion is based only on the professional performance of the officer can also be introduced in the civil service.

In order to introduce a system based on fair and modern lines, it is necessary to bring about a fundamental change in the outdated structure of our Establishment Division. Only those who use human resources properly and experts in this field should join this department.

The situation at the moment is that the Establishment Division is full of DMG officers and this department seems to be in charge of protecting the interests of this group only. The heads of this department, who are almost always associated with the DMG, usually do not have any training in the use and upbringing of human resources.

Many times the heads of this department come to this department for a few months and then move on as soon as they see the first better federal or provincial post.

The Establishment Division cannot carry out fair promotions and selection of incompetent officers in the present structure. The officials of this department are not able to make fair decisions due to the dominance of DMG. It is, therefore, necessary to free it completely from the clutches of one group.

The head of the department needs to find a human resource expert who can treat officers of all groups fairly and appointments and promotions should be based on merit rather than group loyalty.

Similarly, the other key officers of the department should also be experts in the field of human resources so that they can make their unambiguous recommendations to the government on promotions and utilization of existing human resources without any bias.

Recent changes in the law seem to further strengthen DMG’s dominance. Under the new rules, training institutes, which are full of DMG officers, will play a key role in promotions and their recommendations will be given additional and decisive weight.

Photo source: FSA

It is an open secret that these institutions treat the DMG group officers with priority and show great generosity in determining their qualifications during the training while the criteria for assessing the qualifications of the other group of officers is very strict. If these training institutes were run by professional trainers then the recommendations of these institutes would have due weightage.

Because political governments need the civil service to carry out their manifesto and agenda, and because of this connection, the civil service becomes somewhat political. To end this relationship, appropriate changes can be made in our laws to ensure that every political government, during its tenure, brings in experts from all walks of life and volunteers in every ministry who abide by its election promises.

The tenure of these officials should end with the end of the government. The same approach is already being taken for the appointment of political ambassadors to Pakistan.

This process has been in practice successfully in the United States for a long time and we need to come up with a similar system according to our circumstances. This will also prevent the civil service from becoming politicized and the government will be able to provide better facilities to the people by keeping its manifesto and election promises.

With this system, we may be able to save capable officers like Fawad Hassan Fawad and Azam Khan from falling prey to the political leadership, their tools, and the NAB.

In a nutshell, civil service reforms have largely been aesthetic in nature, and no substantial change has been the part of reform agenda. The proposed reforms would bring about political involvement in the name of accountability in the civil service rather than truly improving the service delivery.

Courtesy: Independent Urdu.

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