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Why Civil Services Reforms are confusing?

Given the prevailing bureaucratic hurdles and institutional incompentencies, confusion surrounding the envisaged civil services reforms could not be weeded off. These reforms have been on the table since the incumbent Govt took the reins of power. Much of the provisions presented by the constituent committee have been approved however, the amended cadre/composition and induction rules await approval despite finalization of their drafting.

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Many news stories on the recently announced civil service reforms package created a lot of confusion. Besides the lack of clarity on what these reforms actually entailed, an impression was created that the suggested reforms were being opposed by a powerful lobby headed by the Secretary to the Prime Minister (SPM).

Let’s try to dispel some of this confusion.

In terms of process, invariably all civil service reform ideas in the current dispensation, no matter where they originate from, have to be vetted by the Establishment Division, the Secretaries’ Committee, the task forces on civil service reforms and government restructuring, the two relevant cabinet members — Mr Arbab Shehzad and Dr Ishrat Husain — and finally the SPM, before these are placed before the cabinet or the PM for approval.

Therefore, the impression that SPM opposed these reforms post-approval is quite absurd. Some of these reforms were indeed discussed and criticised by a committee of the retired chief secretaries, headed by someone who happens to share the same name as the current SPM. And hence the confusion!

What do these reforms entail?

These reforms are a combination of new promotion and retirement rules, a rotation policy, amendments in cadre and composition rules, and rules for induction into the Pakistan Administration Service (PAS).

The new promotion rules aim at making the promotion board’s assessment more relevant, while removing any legal lacunas. The retirement rules have introduced performance review of civil servants that could lead to their early retirement, weeding out the dead wood.

Read more: Are civil services reforms imminent?

The new rotation policy would ensure that civil servants do not spend their entire careers in the comfort of a single province and are instead rotated across provinces.

Besides, the policy will also lead to placement of officers in disadvantaged areas like Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Changes in the cadre and composition rules will reduce the number of provincial seats allocated to the PAS and instead offer them to provincial services.

Interestingly, most of these reforms have been initiated by none other than the Establishment Division, as part of its efforts to bring operational improvement in the working of the civil service

And finally, the induction rules would open the jealously guarded gateway to the PAS, allowing mid-level induction of provincial services officers.

All these reforms are at varying stages of approval. The promotion rules have been approved and notified as of December 2019, and two boards have already been held under them.

Retirement from service rules and rotation policy have been pending approval of the Prime Minister, whereas the amended cadre/composition and induction rules have been drafted but not yet approved.

Read more: Politicization of Civil Services in Pakistan

Interestingly, most of these reforms have been initiated by none other than the Establishment Division, as part of its efforts to bring operational improvement in the working of the civil service.

Given that these reforms stem from the bureaucracy itself, they are also more likely to sustain.

Apart from these rules and policies aimed at incremental improvement, there have been much more ambitious conversations, mostly led by the two task forces on civil service reforms.

These conversations revolve around introducing performance contracts, using forced ranking for civil servants’ performance evaluation, enhancing the internal accountability mechanism for civil servants through changes in efficiency and discipline rules, creating a generalist-versus-specialist balance through clusters of occupational groups, and allowing private sector hiring for selected BPS-20 positions.

For now, we must appreciate the fact that the government is finally giving some much-needed attention to the issue of civil service reforms

Although some of these ideas have been approved in principle from the Prime Minister, others remain under discussion. And even for the ones already approved, the details of how these would be operationalised still need to be figured out.

There is a need to look at the proposed reforms much more closely to see if these would bring a difference on ground. But that would be the subject of another article.

For now, we must appreciate the fact that the government is finally giving some much-needed attention to the issue of civil service reforms.

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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