The budget announced by the Federal Government of Pakistan for the financial year 2020-2021, disappointingly, did not include any raise in salaries and pension for government employees. More recently, the result for the CSS exam conducted in February 2019 was announced. Consequently, Twitterati has been abuzz with congratulatory notes for those who got selected through the competitive exam.
With disappointment on one hand with no increase in pension and salary and jubilation among the newly inducted civil servants, many on social media have chided government servants for joining the service fully aware of the low pay they will get.
— Radio Pakistan (@RadioPakistan) June 15, 2020
What is so attractive about CSS?
This led to many civil servants, young as well as more experienced ones, to outline the reasons why they joined the civil service in the first place.
One factor that seemed to be common among many civil servants was that they say they joined the service because they had a passion for public service.
However, this view received a lot of criticism. A very common refrain was that if you have a passion for public service, why not join the Edhi foundation?
As it turns out, people can be motivated by a range of factors while embarking on a career path such as the civil service. It’s also important to understand the socio-cultural context in which people make these decisions.
Emile Durkheim is known as the father of modern sociology. One of the key ideas he introduced was the concept of ‘Social Facts’. Simply put, social facts comprise the dominant social and cultural expectations that exert a ‘pressure’ on individuals and mold our behavior.
Despite low pays & lack of tenure, CSS is still attractive in Pakistan
This is true for societies that take pride in their values of ‘individual freedom’ as well as more collectivistic ones like ours. What are the factors that make people want to join the civil service in a society like ours?
First and foremost, it’s probably immediate social recognition. Passing the CSS competitive exam is seen as a huge achievement. There’s a reason why even the BBC (Urdu) picked up the story of 5 sisters clearing the CSS exam and all becoming bureaucrats. Another reason could be access to a secure career path. Who wouldn’t want that? The civil service gives individuals the opportunity to serve in positions of responsibility in the government.
Young ambitious people are always hoping to make their mark and this is why many compete in this exam. A passion for public service is still part of the motivation. How important a motivating factor it is can vary from individual to individual.
A less discussed factor that motivates people to join service could be easier access to essential state services. Unfortunately, the state of Pakistan has not evolved the capacity to provide basic services to the masses at large. For example, even if you are law-abiding tax-paying citizen, it can be notoriously difficult to pay your taxes when you buy a new car if you don’t know the right person.
Access to state patronage and impunity driving the youth crazy for CSS
Being in the civil service can help gain access to these services relatively easily. On the flip side, being in the service can help protect you and your close ones from abuse of power by state officials. For instance, if your brother is in the Police Service of Pakistan, it’s unlikely that you will ever get harassed or intimidated by a police constable.
There’s also a minority of CSS candidates who get in service just to enjoy authority, impunity and power entrusted to some government posts.
The public is rightfully dissatisfied with the level of service delivery by state institutions at large. Occasionally, you might find an officer who’s willing to go that extra mile but that’s not the norm. Decades of political interference and manipulation have resulted in a deteriorating work environment, lack of adequate compensation and misapplication of the human resource within the government. You could be a P.hD in Food security but get posted in the Human Rights Ministry.
This results in bad service delivery. There is a need for reform and the present government, to its credit, has demonstrated the political will to reform the civil service. How fruitful these reform initiatives turn out to be, remains to be seen.
Absence of political interference pays dividends in Pakistan
In an interview with GVS, the Inspector General Police (IGP) of Islamabad Police was asked how he managed to control crime in the rapidly growing capital of Pakistan. Islamabad was marked safer than London recently, even though the London Metropolitan Police is much more well-funded and well-equipped.
The IGP replied that there was no political interference. He was free to choose the officers he needed for the job, managed to get them posted here and got the job done. This example shows that given the resources and the autonomy they require, there are officers within the civil service of Pakistan that will get the job done.
That sense of achievement can be immensely rewarding which is why most young CSS candidates compete in this exam. In my observation, the old stereotypical ‘Baboo’ is a dying species now. The new generation of civil servants seems to have a much more global outlook. They are aware of how rapidly the world has changed and the need to keep up.
Many of them have worked jobs that pay much better before they opted to join the service. With all the myriad problems our country is going through, there is reason to hope that, since competent and dedicated people are joining the service, things will get better eventually.
The author is an engineer turned civil servant. Interested in public policy for sustainable development. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space