Unwise proposal
BY SYE D S A A D AT | 6/1/2015

CONCEA LING a wound does not heal it; in fact, it can make matters worse as the impression is given that the injured individual is fine and does not need any special attention.

Something along those lines became apparent when the Senate recently urged the government to carry out the necessary legislative work for increasing the age limit of candidates appearing in the CSS examinations, particularly for those belonging to the smaller provinces and less developed areas of the country.

While taking part in the debate the senators from the treasury and opposition benches alike called for enhancing the age limit of CSS candidates to 35 years to enable candidates hailing from backward areas of the country to compete with those living in the developed and urban areas. The Senate`s activism under the recently elected chairman Mr Raza Rabbani is laudable; however the proposed increase in the age limit is hardly a balm for the wounds of our neglected provinces.

Instead of cosmetic changes such as increasing the age limit at the recruitment level, it would be much better if senators were to focus on something more substantial, for instance, the fact that currently out of 40 federal secretaries there is not even a single one who hails from Balochistan. Technically, this means that Balochistan is hardly represented in policymaking and decision-making at the federal level. Representation at the senior-most level is imperative because junior officers are mere paper-pushers and don`t have much say in policymaking.

It takes a couple of years from the time one appears in the CSS exam to the time a successful candidate joins the civil service. That means someone appearing at the age of 35 would be 37, ironically a `rookie` civil servant. On average it takes three years to complete the initial mandatory training of fresh entrants to Pakistan`s elite civil service; meaning that by the time a new recruit is ready to begin active service he or she would be 40 years old.

With hardly any notable perks offered at the junior-most level and just 20 years to superannuation, it would be tough to keep frustration at bay. The only viable option for the officer would be to plan for retirement as 20 years would pass quickly.

One of the following options is most likely to be considered set up a side business to make ends meet; get immigration to Australia, Canada etc; get a scholarship to study abroad so that one can be re-employed on retirement; and last but not the least make some speed money by hook or crook to achieve financial security. Serving the state would be a tough ask under these circumstances. Further, the criterion for promotion in the civil services relies heavily on the number of years in service and anybody joining in their mid-30s has very little chance of being promote d beyond BPS-20.

Therefore, investing in aging individuals would yield rather poor returns. What the government of Pakistan can do instead to ensure better representation of individuals from the underdeveloped areas in civil service is to introduce more scholarships for young students from such regions to study in urban areas. This would also go some way in promoting cultural harmony.

Similarly, a provincial quota for the promotion of civil servants can be considered if adequate representation is to be given to the neglected provinces. However, any such idea could face strong criticism as the blue-eyed boys of bureaucracy who happen to advise the leadership hail mainly from Punjab and they would never relinquish their prized posts in the federal government.

An oligarchy prevails in the civil service, and is perpetuated by making it a built-in feature in the existing system thanks to the nexus between the bureaucrats hailing predominantly from Punjab and the ruling party`s leadership. It is an open secret that when it comes to brainstorming for policymaking or reform in civil service, the current federal leadership is naturally inclined towards officers from the province.

Lastly, being the leader of a democracy it is obligatory on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to realise that while civil servants from Balochistan might not have served under his brother in Punjab whose judgement he blindly trusts, the latter factor should not be an impediment to thinking of ways to provide them with adequate representation in letter and spirit in the federal civil service.

If the PML-N is to be seen as a national and democratic party it would have to do away with the practice of using Punjab as a nursery for nurturing trusted civil servants that are to play a vital role in the federal government.

The federal civil service must represent and safeguard the interests of the federation rather than a province. Encouragement of attitudes that highlight differences rather than commonalities is a recipe for creating rebels-with some very valid reasons.•
The writer is a former civil servant.