īReforming Pakistanīs Civil Serviceī, crisisgroup

Reforming Pakistanīs Civil Service

Asia Report 185
16 February 2010

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Decades of mismanagement, political manipulation and corruption have rendered Pakistan’s civil service incapable of providing effective governance and basic public services. In public perceptions, the country’s 2.4 million civil servants are widely seen as unresponsive and corrupt, and bureaucratic procedures cumbersome and exploitative. Bureaucratic dysfunction and low capacity undermine governance, providing opportunities to the military to subvert the democratic transition and to extremists to destabilise the state. The civilian government should prioritise reforms that transform this key institution into a leaner, more effective and accountable body.

General Pervez Musharraf’s eight-year military rule left behind a demoralised and inefficient bureaucracy that was used to ensure regime survival. There was a dramatic rise in military encroachments as retired generals were appointed to key civil posts, such as the chairmanship of the Federal Public Service Commission, the premier agency for recruitment and promotions. The military regime’s poorly conceived devolution of power led to further administrative confusion and the breakdown of service delivery at the district level, the key administrative unit of governance. The decision to vest revenue and law and order functions in nazims (mayors), elected indirectly and on a non-party basis, led to greater collusion between unscrupulous district officials and corrupt police.

The civil bureaucracy’s ills, however, predate military rule. Archaic rules and procedures and a rigid hierarchical authority structure have undermined its oversight of a public sector that has expanded considerably since the 1970s. Low salaries, insecure tenure, and obsolete accountability mechanisms have spawned widespread corruption and impunity. Recruitments, postings and promotions are increasingly made on the basis of personal contacts and political affiliation, instead of on merit.

The civil service’s falling standards impact mostly Pakistan’s poor, widening social and economic divisions between the privileged and underprivileged. With citizens increasingly affected by conflict and militancy, including millions displaced by fighting in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the government’s ability to ensure law and order and provide services such as education and health care will be vital to winning the hearts and minds of the public, and restoring links between the citizen and the state.

Bureaucratic procedures and practices, formal or informal, play a key role in public perceptions of the government’s functioning. Both the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the coalition government at the centre, and its main opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N), have a stake in investing the patience, resources and political capital needed to enhance the bureaucracy’s ability to execute government policies and respond to public grievances and needs. Both parties should resist the temptation to again use the bureaucracy for short-term political ends, which undermined its functioning. The government’s inability to deliver basic services and good governance could provide an ambitious military leadership the opportunity to intervene.

In the 1990s, the PPP and the PML-N each formed two elected governments but were prevented each time from completing a full term by the military – either through its civilian proxy, the president, or a direct coup in October 1999. The two parties share the blame for that flawed transition, by failing to deliver good governance and as well as a willingness to align with the military against each other. Unsurprisingly, each dismissal, including the October coup, was justified on the grounds of bad governance and corruption. In this, another period of fragile democratic transition, the two parties must realise that repeating past mistakes will again make them vulnerable to military intervention.

If the flaws of an unreformed bureaucracy are not urgently addressed, the government risks losing public support. The recommendations of the National Commission on Government Reforms (NCGR), which was set up by the military regime in 2006 and presented a report to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in May 2008, if properly implemented could help reform the civil service.

The international community too can help improve governance by supporting civil service reform, expanding training programs, and providing technological support and expertise to modernise methods of administration. However, the U.S., EU and other donors should refrain, absent political reform, from supporting bureaucracies such as the FATA secretariat, where unchecked powers and the absence of financial oversight make corruption more likely. They must also condition aid on measures to institute greater accountability and transparency. Indeed, with hundreds of millions more dollars committed for Pakistan’s development, for example through the U.S. Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Act 2009, comes increased risk of corruption and waste, particularly if the money is directly channelled to inefficient and unaccountable institutions. If international development funds yield few tangible results, undermining local expectations, the hearts and minds of the Pakistani public will likely be lost rather than won.


To the Government of Pakistan:

1. Enhance civil service performance and revive a spirit of public service by:

a) increasing salaries and pensions, particularly for those at the bottom of the hierarchy, providing better housing, transport and health insurance for all government employees, and subsidised schooling for their children;

b) conducting regular training, including refresher courses, at all levels of the bureaucracy;

c) improving standards of instruction at training institutions to inculcate professional skills as well as norms and practices that reward integrity and professional commitment;

d) providing competitive compensation and benefits to attract qualified and motivated instructors;

e) linking an officer’s performance during training programs with promotions, thus no longer using successful completion as the only yardstick;

f) establishing and strictly abiding by new criteria for secretariat appointments to include professional expertise, diversity of experience, demonstrable leadership in public institutions, and ability to tackle challenging assignments;

g) modifying Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) to include tangible, performance-oriented criteria instead of subjective evaluations of officers’ characters;

h) instituting a transparent and competitive selection process to encourage representation of all occupational groups, and reserving positions in each basic pay scale for officers from each of those groups; and

i) ensuring that specialists have the same access to training facilities as generalist officers in occupational groups.

2.  Eliminate military interference by:

a) ending the practice of hiring serving or retired military officers in the civil service and abolishing the annual 10 per cent quota reserved for military officers;

b) refraining from renewing contracts of retired military officers presently occupying civil service positions;

c) enacting laws barring serving or retired military personnel from heading any institution dealing with civil service training, recruitment or promotions; and

d) immediately ending the practice of having senior appointments subject to evaluation and clearance by the military’s intelligence agencies.

3. Enhance the functioning of federal and provincial secretariats by:

a) reducing excessive centralisation of functions and devolving administrative and financial authority to lower tiers, with effective oversight;

b) revising and simplifying existing rules and procedures to ensure that civil servants are informed of their rights and responsibilities;

c) ending the systemic bias in favour of generalists by allowing the same opportunities for postings, promotions and career advancement to specialists; and

d) reversing the quota for District Management Group (federal) appointees to provincial posts at the level of Basic Pay Scale (BPS) 21 so that 75 per cent of these posts are reserved for provincial civil servants, and the remainder for federal appointees.

4. Institute effective accountability over the civil bureaucracy by:

a) implementing the recommendations of the Charter of Democracy, signed between the PPP and PML-N, to set up an independent accountability commission, answerable to the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC); this committee would investigate – in tandem with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) – alleged malpractice and financial and other corruption by government officials and take disciplinary actions against those found guilty;

b) empowering federal and provincial ombudsmen to redress public grievances against bureaucratic malpractice; and

c) holding federal and provincial secretaries accountable to parliament and provincial assemblies by mandating national and provincial parliamentary committees to hold regular hearings requiring these civil servants to account for efficient use of resources as well as the organisation, management and staffing of their respective departments.

5. Promote fairness and eliminate opportunities for political manipulation at all levels of the civil administration by:

a) expanding the role of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) from a recruiting agency to one that professionally oversees all aspects of the bureaucracy’s functioning;

b) mandating parliamentary committees to vet and approve senior civil service appointments, proposed by the FPSC, to ensure that they are made on merit rather than personal or political affiliation, followed by a vote in parliament;

c) withdrawing the discretionary power of the prime minister to promote officers to the highest grade in the bureaucracy and transferring it to the FPSC;

d) guaranteeing security of tenure and providing civil servants legal protection against postings, transfers and promotions that do not conform to due process;

e) empowering the Federal Services Tribunal to monitor postings and transfers, and review civil servants’ complaints about arbitrary transfers; and

f) replicating these measures in the provinces.

6. Settle the status of the report by the National Commission on Government Reforms (NCGR) by:

a) constituting a bipartisan parliamentary committee on civil service reform, with half the members nominated by the government and half by the opposition, co-chaired by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, to assess the report, placing recommendations before the national and provincial assemblies for detailed debate and review;

b) once approved, present a final bill on the floor of the National Assembly for a vote; and

c) encourage the provincial assemblies to follow suit on reform of the provincial services.

7. Improve land administration and local governance by:

a) computerising land records;

b) making certificates of possession and other land ownership-related documents available at information kiosks in tehsils (towns) for a small fixed fee;

c) establishing call centres in districts to report requests for bribes, illegal commissions and other abuses, including by the patwari (village revenue officer); and

d) devolving authority to tehsil officials to issue certificates of domicile and related documents, rather than through district headquarters.

8. Modernise civil service systems and processes and enhance inter-agency coordination through e-gov­ern­ance technology by:

a) making compliance with standards set by the E-Government Directorate (EGD) mandatory for major federal government projects;

b) instituting compulsory training in basic information technology processes for all government employees in BPS-5 and above; and

c) giving the EGD greater financial and organisational autonomy by converting it from a cell to an attached department of the ministry of information technology.

9. Improve police functioning by having the parliament review the Police Order (2002); setting up a parliamentary subcommittee to deal exclusively with policing; and empowering accountability and managerial bodies such as the public safety commissions and the National Police Management Board.

10. Mainstream FATA’s bureaucracy by abolishing the FATA secretariat and the office of the political agent, and transferring their authority to the NWFP secretariat, relevant provincial line ministries and district departments.

To the U.S. and the International Community:

11. Condition FATA aid under the U.S. Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Act 2009 on reform of the region’s corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucracy, including the abolition of the FATA secretariat and the office of the political agent, with their powers transferred to the NWFP secretariat, relevant provincial line ministries and district departments.

12. Include technocrats, as well as cadre civil servants, in all public sector capacity building projects, in addition to training schemes at leading international universities and institutes.

13. Build the capacity of civil service training institutions by providing instructors and teaching materials on best international practices of public policy, fiscal policy, financial management, infrastructure development, human resource management, energy and agriculture.

14. Provide technical support for the expansion of E-government technologies, particularly in areas such as land revenue administration, taxation and policing, and leverage aid to press line ministries, departments and agencies to incorporate E-governance processes within their domains.

Islamabad/Brussels, 16 February 2010