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Civil servants

Recruitment & training—I

Huzaima Bukhari

“It’s not finding yourself that’s hard; it’s facing yourself that is”―Alexander Den Heijer,

If today, fingers are being raised against the civil servants of Pakistan, it calls for some serious brainstorming, deliberations and considering of revamping the entire institution which serves as the backbone of administration for the country. Just as there is need to efficiently run a corporate body, there is also a dire need to professionally manage the myriad departments that constitute both federal and provincial governments, if the country has to move in the right direction towards prosperity, peace and sense of protection and safety.

Browsing through the web, one comes across innumerable articles thoughtfully written on various aspects of civil servants. These mostly grim observations relate to their attitude (negative most of the times), poor perceptions of civil servants about their own job, disability in delivering, moral turpitude, lack of interest in their assigned functions, inhumanity, arrogance, misuse of power, political leanings and a lot more. In a lighter vein the most common joke about our civil servants runs like, “They are ones who are paid by the government to do nothing and if the public wants anything done, it has to pay them.”

When questioned, people from all walks of life who have interacted with civil servants have a long list of complaints and rarely does anyone come up with something truly pleasant about his experience. Mr. Shabbir Ahmed in an article published in Business Recorder writes:“Half the business community’s woes can be attributed to a bloated, inefficient, and insensitive bureaucracy. We keep scurrying for sifarish, to have access to the decision maker; we even have to press Quaid-e-Azam into service to speed things up. The quality and speed of decisions by the bureaucracy has a major impact on our operations. The ‘institutional framework’ has a direct bearing on our competitiveness.”

Shabbir Ahmed rightly pointed out: “The reason that the Army works and the civil service doesn’t is that there is no interference in Army’s service matters. The world over, including our neighbours, the civil service has a say in the career development and assignments of its officers. Of course it is subject to political oversight, but not political ‘over lordship’ as is the case in Pakistan.”  Adding to this theory, the armed forces recruit cadets at very tender and formative ages, breaks and makes them into highly disciplined and professionally sound men and women. Promotions to higher ranks are subject to many conditions and not everyone can expect to become a five-star general, air vice marshal or rear admiral. Loyalty, discipline, obedience, adeptness and humility are forced into their minds but at times, the flip side is that because of these very qualities there are some who have displayed arrogance, especially when it comes to comparing themselves with civil bureaucracy. Nonetheless, there is an element of intensity in their training that is absent from that of their civil counterparts. In cosmonaut Roman Romanenko words, “After I graduated from school, I enrolled in the military college, a cadet school. This is the first stage of military training; it instills discipline and various qualities required for military life.”

When such things keep cropping up and matters are out of control, it is time to do some soul-searching to face one’s drawbacks in a way that would facilitate in removing these harsh opinions; and contemplate measures that would vastly improve the image of civil service in general and the civil servant in particular. Where are we lacking in our ability to produce men and women who have the best caliber to manage and run the complicated affairs of governance? What is missing in our process of recruitment and subsequent trainings that is creating so much public resentment? After all, these men and women who are appointed to various posts are the sons and daughters of the very same public then why on becoming civil servants there comes about a massive shift in their approach? Why is it that those who are unable to find employment elsewhere or unhappy with their professions, enter the civil services as a last recourse? A brief overview of the changes made in the recruitment and training processes might help to understand some of the issues raised above.

Prior to 1977, successful candidates of the Civil Superior Services (CSS) Examinations were assigned their occupational groups after undergoing common training (CTP) at the Civil Services Academy, Walton, Lahore. For some reason best known to the authorities, this system was discontinued to be replaced with allocation of groups before commencement of CTP. There may have been some very good intentions of the government of that time but selection on the basis of quota was introduced rather than pure merit (restricted to only 7.5%). There is an age limit for appearing for the CSS exams which was originally between 21 to 25 years but the upper limit was enhanced to 28 in 1983. An impartial consideration of these moves would reveal a number of resulting deformities that have seeped into the civil services and have now deeply embedded themselves in the system.

In the first place the CSS examinations conducted by the Federal Public Service Commission are no longer as competitive and difficult as they used to be during the colonial era as the nature of the written part has a semblance with that of tests conducted by universities at the BA (Hons) level. Once having cleared the written, candidates are supposed to appear for short psychological and medical tests as well as interview before a board comprising five members after which, suitability for different groups are decided. After group allocation, a common training spanning over six months commences for successful candidates of all the groups followed by another phase of specialized training in their respective fields. To be confirmed in service, officers have to clear a final passing out examination before they embark on their career as civil servants. (To be continued)


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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