Reforming Public Service in Pakistan – I


Overhauling testing, recruitment and promotion procedures

Reform in public service, and within it civil service or bureaucracy, is much needed for better service delivery, maintenance of law and order, and dispensation of justice. To our accumulating disadvantage, colonial times rudimentary level public service has not been replaced satisfactorily with a modern, specialized and technically sound one. Time to be creative has been indeed long overdue, and PTI led government should be well-poised to deliver, given the strong philosophical underpinnings of PTI to be the agent of change towards a ‘Naya’ (or new) Pakistan.

Overall, the government should be run by experts; for example Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) or the Chairman, Planning and Development (P&D) department of a respective province, should not be run by a non-expert civil servant but by a technocrat. As I will explain below, every department of the government should be run by their administrative and technocratic staff, covering the law and order/other administrative affairs, and policy side, respectively.

Currently, there is this public or government service, which starts from lower tiers of the whole public service hierarchy, and suffers from slow vertical movement, and the employees here are usually pegged to their parent department (in which they were initially recruited). The inductance/recruitment under the various provincial public service commissions, also means that the people recruited, usually remain tied to a specific province. Civil Superior Services (CSS), where personnel are inducted by the Federal Public Service Commission, at the same time is ‘quick moving’ in terms of vertical movement, with more horizontal and provincial mobility, may that be in terms of secretarial jobs or field positions.

Having said, the nature of examinations for all these positions, especially the ones based on competitive examinations under respective service commissions, do not check detailed subject specialization of the candidate, and candidates when selected, are not necessarily assigned to a department of service suited to his/her subject knowledge. For example, people with background of degree specialization in humanities and/or medical sciences, are placed in a variety of fields at the back of only partially checking their knowledge in the exams of that particular field, like Customs, Income Tax, etc.

Barring the need for meeting certain quota for safeguarding special interest groups, for which greater clarity needs to be brought as to who qualifies for it, there should only be exam-based entry into public service, for people appearing from any educational (both professional and non-professional) or technical education streams.

Time to be creative has been indeed long overdue, and PTI led government should be well-poised to deliver, given the strong philosophical underpinnings of PTI to be the agent of change towards a ‘Naya’ (or new) Pakistan

Moreover, just like the education system should be uniform in the country, so should be the recruitment commission. At the same time, to give recourse to impartial oversight of this recruitment commission and to give redressal to complaints of candidates and staff of this commission, there should be a recruitment commission regulator, and a separate set of labour courts (on the same pattern as consumer courts) as a check on both the recruitment commission and recruitment commission regulator. The next stage of appeal after the labour courts, pertaining to provincial recruitment commissions, should be in the shape of respective provincial High Courts; whereas the Supreme Court should be the final court of appeal for both the provincial recruitment commissions, and the federal recruitment commission.

Here, it needs to be pointed out that while there will be a uniform recruitment process for the entire country, the federal recruitment commission will have most powers in terms of consequences for provincial recruitment commissions, with provincial recruitment commissions having more say with regard to the extent and coverage of quota in accordance with particular needs of that province. Moreover, all the laws and procedures will attain their shape and legitimacy on every aspect of the working of the recruitment commissions from the federal, and thereafter, the provincial legislatures.

Within the existence of a uniform recruitment process, the thinking among policy maker that needs to evolve on the whole recruitment/inductance policy could be on these lines. Firstly, there should be a set number of entry points for working in the public sector, for example (a) the very initial level of a department with more generic job requirements like messenger boy, with sub-categorization of this level to start from (i) no formal education and skills training certification, or limited experience, to holding (ii) primary education, or above that to holding (iii) secondary education.

Next entry point should be at the medium level, with educational qualification/technical education qualification equivalent to intermediate or Bachelors, where a particular candidate is expected to perform more technical level of work. Then there should be a tertiary level, with entrants having professional bachelors (like doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc.) or masters level education. Lastly, there should be an advance level, with candidates to enter at the back of meaningful work experience, and/or doctoral level.

There should be two streams open to candidates entering at the medium- and above levels, with a specific entry level recruitment process (exam or simply interview, depending on the seniority of level under discussion) for each level, and that is (a) the routine stream, and (b) the fast stream. In the routine stream, either there would be a direct entry depending on taking a particular entry level exam, or promotion from a junior level; where routine promotion process needs to be bound by set timelines, and more scientific evaluation criteria. Once again, employee appeals against promotion evaluations should go through the same redressal mechanism discussed above.

Moreover, people hired at the initial entry level, given their low level of education/skills levels to start with, could only qualify for sitting for a fast stream exam, after they have previously successfully qualified a select number of foundation examinations/trainings, which should be formulated by the federal recruitment commission (after discussion with the provincial recruitment commissions) so that both the generic and department specific qualifications are represented in the examinations for candidate evaluation. In case they don’t opt for these foundation examinations/trainings, people hired in initial entry could only continue in the regular stream.

A modified version of the current system of the CSS examinations- one that is more subject specific and where the subsequent allocation of department to a candidate will only be in relation to his/her subject specialization (here, the department open to a candidate to be accepted to, could be more than one, given a particular subject specialization, like for example, both customs or income tax service could be made open to a tax lawyer or economist, depending on absorption level during a particular intake session)- the fast stream would provide more periodic promotion meetings for vertical movement, and there will be greater opportunity to work at higher levels on both the administrative- and technocratic/policy sides.

The overarching feature that would differentiate the reformed public service system will be that there will be two main areas of work, (a) administrative service, and (b) technocratic service within any one department of the government. Hence, in any department- from one dealing with law and order, to transport service, to legal service, to environment service, to social sector service (health, education, etc.), to economic service, to statistical service- there would be two areas to work in- (i) carrying out field/administrative work of the department, which will be for the related administrative service staff, and (ii) formulating policy and doing secretariat work will be the domain of technocratic staff.

Moreover, there should also be allowed lateral entry into both the administrative- and technocratic service, in either to the routine- and fast stream, at any level of the public service hierarchy.

(To be continued…)