Public Service in Pakistan: A Reform Agenda

Rather than having civil service as a separate entity and then others government employees – who have not come through competitive exams – called government servants and treated in less favourable ways as the civil servants, there should be one public service.

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In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant of USA appointed Dorman B. Eaton as the chair of the first Civil Service Commission, who later went to England in 1875 to study the civil service system of Britain.

Upon the conclusion of his study, Mr. Eaton produced a report, which was published as a book titled ‘Civil Service in Great Britain: of Abuses and Reforms and their Bearing upon American Politics.’ In this book he enumerated some of the main principles a civil service system should possess.

Firstly, the public office creates a relation of trust and duty of a kind which requires all authority and influence pertaining to it to be exercised with the same absolute conformity to moral standards, to the spirit of the constitution and the laws, and to the common interest of the people.

Secondly, in filling offices, it the right of the people to have the worthiest citizens in the public service for the general welfare.

Thirdly, the personal merits of the candidate – are in themselves the highest claim upon an office.

Lastly, party government and the salutary activity of parties are not superseded, but they are made purer and more efficient, by the merit of office which brings larger capacity and higher character to their support.’

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Here, the most important aspect of civil or public service reforms is the capacity of a public service commission towards ‘filling offices [with] worthiest citizens’. For too long the system of public service in Pakistan is unable to fulfill this duty, whereby public service overall has lacked adequate technical capacity and appropriate level of motivation.

The current government when it came to office formulated a reform committee for improving the quality of civil service and capacity of public institutions overall. Around one-and-a-half year in office, the outcomes of that committee are yet to reveal themselves in any significant way.

There are two aspects of the functioning of a government: administrative and policy. Both need experts. Moreover, rather than treating civil service or bureaucracy in a more special way – mainly in terms of speed of promotions, benefits, and extent of access in terms of assuming and exercising power and policy – the whole public service should be treated with an equal sense of purpose and involvement by the government.

As it currently stands the central superior service reflects a colonial mindset of creating a small group, equipping it with inordinate authority and unjustified benefits to serve the interests of the power corridors more than those of the public.

Parliaments at the federal and provincial levels should provide the laws pertaining to the formulation of respective recruitment commissions, so that the needed shape and legitimacy could be obtained for these

Hence, rather than having civil service as a separate entity and then others government employees – who have not come through competitive exams – called government servants and treated in less favourable ways as the civil servants, there should be one public service (with no civil service within it).

The government is run by experts – administrative and technocratic – recruited through work-based specialized exams/practical demonstration respectively. Those among them when they reach a certain level at the back of performance and further examinations enter a ‘fast-stream’ in terms of promotions and benefits.

The government needs to be run by experts, both on the administrative and policy side. The administrative nature of work, involving maintaining law and order and conducting other administrative affairs of the nature of the daily functioning of the government, should involve people based on the underlying needed skills set through a competitive exam specifically designed to test candidates in related aspects.

On the other hand, policy-related work should be done by technocrats, and their competitive exams should be designed accordingly.

In this regard, graduation to the proposed fast stream in each case, meeting performance benchmarks, including gaining additional educational achievements like a doctoral degree or other degree showing needed specialization, and even passing another set of competitive exams in fields where this is warranted should be rewarded.

 

At the same time, apart from meeting ‘quota’ requirements to safeguard the needs of special interest groups among which selection is done through exam/practical demonstration only within that group, the rest of entry into public service should be through open competitive exams.

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Currently, the federal- and provincial public service commissions have limited scope in terms of hiring, which need to be replaced with one proposed ‘federal recruitment commission’, and ‘provincial recruitment commissions’ with wider responsibilities to conduct recruitment for all public service.

From the lowest to the highest levels, with provision for lateral entries, and in both the realm of administrative and technocratic public service. At the same time, there needs to better coordination between the federal and provincial recruitment commissions.

Moreover, to maintain impartial oversight of the recruitment commissions, and to settle disputes inter and intra-commissions there needs to be formulated a ‘recruitment commission regulator’ associated with each of recruitment commissions.

Along with setting up specialized ‘public service labour courts’ to deal with appeals regarding working of both the recruitment commissions, recruitment commission regulators, with subsequent appeals process available in the shape of superior courts.

Parliaments at the federal and provincial levels should provide the laws pertaining to the formulation of respective recruitment commissions so that the needed shape and legitimacy could be obtained for these.

At the same, graduation to fast stream should not be a one-way ticket, and evaluation boards after an appropriate time-span should re-evaluate all fast-stream employees for allowing them to continue, or putting them back in the routine stream

The recruitment commissions will primarily recruit public servants at three stages or ‘entry points’, with the possibility of lateral entries at any level, on need basis. Here, the first entry point is the ‘initial level’, which would cater to jobs of generic nature like peons, messenger-boys, within a department.

This level would require minimal to some education/training, and sub-categorization of this initial level could be recruiting people with a) no education at the formal level, and without any certification indicating skills training, but rather having only limited work experience, at one end of the spectrum to b) candidates applying for jobs that require primary, and up to the secondary level of education, for instance for jobs like stenographer, receptionist, among others.

The second entry point will be at the ‘medium level’. Recruitment at this level would require more educational attainment – intermediate to bachelor degrees – and skills. Hence, the nature of jobs would require greater responsibility and technical training.

The third entry point thereafter would be called the ‘tertiary level’ with higher job pre-requisites – professional bachelor degrees, for instance, engineers, doctors, etc., and masters level in other cases – than the medium level.

The fourth entry point will be in the shape of ‘advance level’ where recruitment requirements would include candidates with doctoral degrees, and among other cases high educational attainment and significant work experience (but are not holders of doctorates).

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At the same time, rather than having central superior services for a select number of job fields, as indicated earlier, there should be one public service pertaining to all jobs with regard to serving the public.

There may still also be no need to call them government servants or public servants, which does not sound that respectable, but rather public service providers or public service officers.

Hence, public service should encapsulate all fields of work serving the public by the government and may make sense to have all entry levels being proposed.

In addition, from the medium level of entry and above, there should be a ‘fast stream’. Here, the fast stream would enable quicker vertical movement for the employees of this stream, within a particular field of work, who would have greater financial and pension benefits than the routine stream since they have greater and more technically-demanding responsibilities to perform. This is also because graduation into fast stream would require attaining good service record in terms of achievements, and passing a competitive exam for the fast stream.

The employees working at the initial level, and aspiring to qualify for appearing in the fast stream exam, will first have to become eligible for working in the medium level for an appropriate amount of time, and then can become eligible for appearing in the fast stream exam, in the same way as others in the routine service above the initial level.

Similarly, people working in the regular stream at levels above the initial level, can strive for entering fast stream by appearing in the associated exam, held as per its timeline.

Moreover, SOEs also need to be governed through the same mechanism of routine- and fast stream service fields, and same situation of entry points and lateral entries, as for other public service employment, is followed

Having said, there should be a fixed number of opportunities available to an employee within a particular level (above the initial level that is) for taking the fast stream exam, where for example, two to three times in a medium level, and similarly in higher levels for the employees of the routine stream.

At the same, graduation to fast stream should not be a one-way ticket, and evaluation boards after an appropriate time-span should re-evaluate all fast-stream employees for allowing them to continue, or putting them back in the routine stream. Moreover, such demotions should allow the opportunity for the employee to re-enter fast-stream at the occasion of another evaluation board, but here too such opportunities fixed only for a limited number of few times.

A defining feature of the reformed public service, apart from doing away with central superior service, and becoming all-encompassing in terms of the entire range of fields falling under public service, would be to distinguish public service into ‘administrative- and technocratic services’.

This means that for any field, for instance from health sector to economists to environmentalists to transport service, to public administration, to police service, among others, all would have these two streams individually, so that the requirements of administration and policy formulation could be met within each and every field of public service.

At the same time, there would be an active research department within the policy side, to inform on better actions going forward, and the level of past performance, to each of the administrative and policy-related public service of that particular department.

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Moreover, to maintain the element of fairness to all, all public servants will first enter routine service, with no one allowed to directly take fast stream exam, and parachuting straight into fast stream because doing that falls into unfair treatment to the regular stream. This is unlike the current case at hand, where candidates directly enter into an elite cadre at a reasonably advanced vertical stage of service, in the shape of central superior services, without going through the routine government service, and then possibly graduating into a fast stream with that experience and time spent in the routine service.

Also, in line with the earlier line of argument, competitive exam will only be open to people of routine service, which would require that everyone entering public service will at first spend appropriate amount of time as an employee of routine service. In addition, unlike the current central superior service exam, the fast stream exam will be more technically aligned to a particular field of job.

At the same time, contractual employment should only be need-based, and should not be for longer durations of time, for which there should be an assessment made in the shape of judgement on the quality of his/her work as a contractual employee. If need be, they can be placed before the requirement of an exam, and/or interview – depending on the nature and seniority of a particular job at hand – at an appropriate point in time, and the contractual employment is regularized into the routine stream; with the person having then the same opportunity to graduate to the fast stream – in case that person wishes to pursue that course of action – in the same way as available for any other employee in the routine service above initial level that is.

Here, in line with the argument of Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capital in the twenty-first century’ where he points out that unlike the rate of economic growth and the related rate on traditional saving instruments

Long-term contractual jobs should not be allowed because given the need for the contracted person is long-term, and in case the person can pass the assessment to graduate to the routine level, then the services of the contracted person should only be continued to be taken by the government under routine service and associate benefits.

This should also be the case for people working in the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), in terms of people being contracted are entering employment for the first time, or ones that have experience working in the private sector and are contracted from there.

Moreover, SOEs also need to be governed through the same mechanism of routine- and fast stream service fields, and same situation of entry points and lateral entries, as for other public service employment, is followed. Having said, in the case of public-private partnerships, the private side of it follows its own rules and regulations as fall under the labour market other than that of the public sector.

In order to allow for the transition to a unified single public service, the people currently working as civil servants, would be automatically admitted into the fast stream. Having said, the proposed federal recruitment commission holds consultation with each civil servant on his/her choice of field, and then decide whether the choice could be entertained given his academic qualification and/or work experience.

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Moreover, the place to continue work, whether at the federal level or any of the provinces should be decided by the federal recruitment commission in consultation with the concerned province, if need be, and also on the basis of such criteria as the domicile of the officer, and his/her seniority level.

At the same time, after being converted to the fast stream, these officers will be subject to the same fast stream evaluation process as for others in the fast stream, and in case they do not meet the needed performance level, they would be transferred to the routine stream; with a fixed number of opportunities to qualify back to the fast stream.

An important part of the public service reform is to rationalize the pension and welfare aspects concerning public service providers/officers, which for example may be evolved on the same lines – as per a decided timeline within the reforms – as the Scandinavian countries. Here, in line with the argument of Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capital in the twenty-first century’ where he points out that unlike the rate of economic growth and the related rate on traditional saving instruments, investment in financial instruments brings more consistently greater returns on such investments, and hence rather than just leaving it to slowly accumulate over time it would make sense to offer employees with investment plans through the creation of a special ‘public service pension/superannuation organization’, within each recruitment commission, which provides them the opportunity to invest these funds into, for instance, stock markets, mutual funds, and secondary debt markets, among others.

Capacity building is a specialized field and requires specialized education to plan out a wholesome capacity building programme for the entire public service

Currently, the welfare benefits for civil servants, and more so, for government servants are quite insignificant. These should be broadened to include providing subsidy for the education and health needs of the immediate family, increased finance for housing, and in helping deal with any disability issues in the family.

An important aspect that should be made part of public service reform is the introduction of a sound capacity building programme for public service providers. In this regard, it would make sense to create a ‘federal level capacity building organization’ within the overall federal recruitment commission, and having provincial headquarters for better communication with provincial recruitment commissions.

Unlike the current practice, whereby Ministry of Economic Affairs performs the task of selecting government/civil servants for various capacity building training endeavours, the proposed organization would work as a dedicated capacity building institute, offering training itself, coordinating training across the public sector, including liaising with State Bank of Pakistan’s training programmes and selecting officers in a targeted and well-planned manner for international trainings/educational courses.

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As a learning curve, among tapping other sources, it may make sense to seek a technical assistance arrangement with International Monetary Fund Institute for Capacity Development, in an overall effort to formulate the proposed capacity-building organization. Capacity building is a specialized field and requires a specialized education to plan out a wholesome capacity building programme for the entire public service.

Therefore, public service officers who have the right kind of technical skills within each field of training – like tax administration and policy, health sector management, education sector management, finance, public sector economics, among others – should be offered the opportunity by the proposed capacity-building organization to serve in this institute.

Moreover, the proposed organization should also be responsible for overseeing the performance of all public sector research and training institutes, which are currently working in a somewhat inefficient and uncoordinated way, and to align the with the overall goals of capacity building of public sector officers, and in improving the level and frequency of their research-based input into government’s planning and implementation endeavours.

The account should be maintained by NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority), and levels of access should be maintained, allowing access to authorized personnel only

The proposed organization would also be responsible for clearing the names of federal and provincial public service officers for educational courses/trainings, which means taking away this task from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and to shift this into the hands of a dedicated capacity-building organization. Moreover, this organization will also evolve and oversee the research and policy think tanks being proposed within all the government ministries. At the same time, it would be responsible for evolving the ‘online training component of capacity building’, and manage all the related matters in this regard.

The proposed organization will also ensure that within this proposed policy and research think tanks, there should be created the platform for showcasing research in the shape of a both digital and print ‘departmental research journals’. Articles published in these journals would allow both in-house appraisals of thought process on various technical issues being faced by that given department, and since these would be open to viewing by public, would allow sharing data and information with them as well.

At the same time, for greater dissemination of the issues, solutions, and the overall work being done by a government ministry/department, it would make sense that the proposed capacity-building organization and Pakistan Television (the State TV) evolve a plan whereby certain time, one hour perhaps on a daily basis (with the possibility of at least one repeat telecast during the same day) is dedicated to a periodic discussion of these by one think tank at a time, in the form of launching a TV talk show in this regard.

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In the spirit of e-governance, and interconnectedness through the use of IT, public service officers should have a ‘standardized online account.’ The account should be maintained by NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority), and levels of access should be maintained, allowing access to authorized personnel only; with access to the personal workspace of the officer only accessible to him or her.

The account would serve as a ready tool to a) gain information about an officer’s past assignments, specialized interest within the field he or she is working in, b) carry out official communication on matters like postings, details of assignment being designated to, correspondences, c) allow the officer to have access to a common ‘dashboard’ where i) departmental information is provided on matters of common interest, ii) specialized access to documents/data given the nature of work of the officer allows such access, iii) features of face time (or video interaction), video conference, voice and verbal chatting facilities, file/documents sharing, among other, are made available to save on time and physical damage to files (especially wear and tear of older files), and costs related with telecommunication, travel, printing and other stationery costs.

Prior to the construction of Putrajaya, the Malaysian government offices were housed at various locations across Kuala Lumpur. With increasing traffic congestion, however, the distance between the offices began to hinder administrative processes

Moreover, electronic maintenance of files would mean that the pace of work will be more likely to increase. The account will hold, in turn, files of work pertaining to the work of an officer, and can be accessed by authorized personnel real time. This would allow the opportunity for a) introducing better checks and balances, enhanced protection of information contained in the files, and improved level of accountability and efficiency.

This account system would allow the PM to access account of any officer – other than the personal work space of the officer within that account – to gain information/files on the work being done by a particular officer.

In addition, a ‘government app’ should be formulated, through which this account could also be accessed, which should have access to both general working, information and services of the public sector, and also to the intranet (authorized access only) where these accounts are being held, along with the associated features they have. Having said, the IT ministry should ensure placing strong security/data protection features, and against the misuse of accounts by authorized and unauthorized people in any way.

The other important thing for overall public service reform, like anything else in life, is the ‘physical environment’ within which the public service providers work and interact. The physical architecture of public workspaces – all the places where public service providers/officers work and interact – need modernity and novelty. Moreover, there should be a sense of ‘uniformity’ of such spaces across the country. This would require bringing in the concept of ‘administrative districts’, similar to what exists for instance in Putrajaya, Malaysia, which is a dedicated space for all the offices to operate in one place.

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According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Putrajaya, city and federal territory of Malaysia… serves as the country’s administrative centre. Prior to the construction of Putrajaya, the Malaysian government offices were housed at various locations across Kuala Lumpur. With increasing traffic congestion, however, the distance between the offices began to hinder administrative processes.

Consequently, the government resolved to create a new city where the scattered offices could be relocated and reassembled to form a more efficient administrative hub. The prime minister’s office moved to Putrajaya in 1999. While Kuala Lumpur continued to function as Malaysia’s capital… Putrajaya gradually expanded to include the Federal Court, the second royal palace, and many other administrative buildings.

It was declared a federal territory in 2001. Putrajaya is managed by a corporate body that controls its development. Built on the former sites of rubber and oil palm plantations, Putrajaya was developed as a “garden city.”… Putrajaya is accessible by numerous rail lines and highways and is in close proximity to Kuala Lumpur International Airport.’

For better functioning of officers, and their overall well-being, it would sense that these administrative districts also have a) office of NADRA, b) offices of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics

Imagine the space for tourism, educational activities, among others, that will be made available if a similar administrative district is made for both the federal capital, and other provinces.

At the same time, a sense of uniformity of such administrative districts will allow better budgeting, including reduced costs due to better layout and closer proximity of offices, the efficiency of work, especially since officers working in one place will be familiar with physical layout and level of facilities available.

Moreover, a uniform layout will also facilitate people who come for getting relief/services from those offices, since all the administrative districts will be quite similar in their layout. For achieving this uniformity of design of administrative districts, it would make sense that consensus-building across provinces and the federal capital is done through Council of Common Interests (CCI), while legislation for formulating administrative districts is reached through enactment in national parliament.

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Over time, these administrative districts should be rolled out for all the hundred-plus districts of Pakistan. For better functioning of officers, and their overall well-being, it would sense that these administrative districts also have a) office of NADRA, b) offices of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, and provincial bureau of statistics, c) a standardized market, d) open spaces and parks, e) gym and associated restrooms for each ministry/department, and f) common eating areas.

Dr. Omer Javed is an institutional political economist, who previously worked at International Monetary Fund, and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Barcelona. He tweets at @omerjaved7. This article originally appeared in Business Recorder and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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