Reforming the Civil Services

Bureaucracy, or the civil service fraternity, forms the backbone of a country's administrative setup. Brilliant minds, blessed with extraordinary acumen, are inducted into the civil service to ensure that the best people come at the helm. As policy-implementing arm of the government, the Civil Service officers strive to serve the interests of the public and those of the state in a way that there is continuation in state policies regardless of the change of governments.


In Pakistan, almost every young graduate aspires to join the Civil Services of Pakistan. They are fascinated by its unique charm, and by the authority that this service vests in the CSP officers. Besides this, hefty salary packages as well as numerous perks and privileges make this service the most coveted one. In short, this is the service where talent meets opportunity and dreams translate into reality. There are numerous instances where people who had been drawing huge salaries in private sector quit their jobs and decided to go for CSS.

Like all countries of the world, a system of recruitment to civil services is also in place in Pakistan. The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 under its Article 242 assigns the task of selecting the rightest persons for the country's bureaucratic sodality to the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). But, succinctly saying, the FPSC has failed its purpose, and its policies have been a serious impediment to achieving this goal.

The most notable instance of FPSC's dismal failure is CE-2013 Final Result whereby out of 11406 candidates, only 220 candidates — a miserable 1.92% — could secure final allocations. This has raised many eyebrows and has, simultaneously, underscored the need of judicious, radical and effective reforms in the prevalent recruitment system as well as in the hierarchy of country's bureaucratic apparatus.

The FPSC’s exam for recruitment to civil services consists of three phases: (i) written test, (ii) psychological assessment, and (iii) interview. But, the recent result suggests that the very foundations of this whole system have shaken. Who and how is responsible for this debacle and what and where the reforms are needed warrants an insightful discourse.

First of all, a fleeting look at the present system of written test reveals that the whole process, right from the selection of subjects to assessment of papers by examiners, is replete with flaws. The aspirants while choosing the optional subjects run after the “scoring trend”. This is cancerous to their abilities and talent but no substantial efforts have been made in this regard; rather the FPSC policies prompt students to go on with it.

It's a known fact that more than eighty-five per cent marks in some subjects like Persian, Psychology, Geography, Arabic and regional languages are quite gettable. Then, how one would go for subjects like Geology or Botany when such subjects consistently yield high scores? It should be an eye-opener for FPSC that the number of candidates who opted for Geography doubled in just two years, while the same for Arabic almost quadrupled but important subjects like Political Science, Business Administration, and Literature are being ignored by most candidates. This “trend race” makes numerous candidates having medical or engineering or other professional degrees choose such subjects which have nothing to do with their academic background.

Even more distressing factor is that a lot many candidates are 'consigned' to the groups they never wanted to join nor they had aptitude for it. These officers are imparted training in form of Common Training Programme (CTP) and Specialized Training Programme (STP) spanning only some months. Then, how a specialized study of 2-4 years can be substituted by this limited training? Isn't it the sheer wastage of precious talent and energy of such professionals? What a candidate having an MBBS degree on his credit has to do with Persian or Arabic? It's a glaring reality that an MBBS would give his best in health department and a master's in International Relations would be unmatched while engaging in diplomatic activities; and so on.

The FPSC should devise such policies which not only root this trend culture out, but also obligate candidates to choose subjects in which they had graduated or had master's degrees in. This is the only panacea to all our country's ills as with this policy, the right talent would meet the right opportunity.

This also highlights the importance of restructuring the occupational groups. Although all occupational groups are equally important and prestigious, yet lamentably, a huge disparity among various service groups is prevalent in the present system. The candidates who get allocated to PAS, PSP, or FSP jubilate like they have conquered the world. It is because they would enjoy far more respect and status than their counterparts in other groups.

Nevertheless, it is absolutely fallacious to consider any group inferior in any case. We have a number of intelligent individuals who had Railways or Postal group as their first preference but they were allocated in IRS or PAAS and vice versa. It is hard to understand how a candidate who had wished to join the PSP, and also had the guts for it, would give his hundred per cent in some other department.

We always bemoan that various government departments are nearing collapse. However, if the FPSC allocates the willing and capable officers in such departments, their approaching doom can be avoided. The sooner the FPSC realizes this reality, the better it is!

The system of civil service should ensure the marriage of authority with only competence. It would be highly beneficial for the country if a law graduate serves in law and parliamentary affairs ministry; a person having sound knowledge of mass communication goes to Information Group; and, last but not least, who have their educational background in humanities should be given the opportunity to interact with public because such persons will be in a better position to solve their problems.

The second phase i.e. the Psychological Assessment, too, needs immediate restructure. The gravest matter of concern is the fact that hardly any heed is paid to the psychologists' opinion at the time of making final allocations. Psychologists perform their task with great care and being cautious of the results of their opinion. There are reports that some people, who were adjudged 'abnormal', not only got allocated but are also holding important positions. Doesn't it portend the collapse of the civil service structure? The whole picture looks even bleaker when it's almost certain that these 'abnormal' individuals will, in future, head state institutions and government departments.

A smart candidate can outfox the panellists as they usually have only 25-30 minutes to assess a person; that is too sufficient to make the right decision.

If allocations are made after CTP, it would help in overcoming this problem because till then the trainers would have focussed solely their talent.


Here, one may accuse psychologist of some sort of prejudice towards candidates. Keeping this factor in view, only those individuals should be appointed on the FPSC's panel of psychologists who have a sound knowledge of, and expertise in, this field and have also the arrows of fresh ideas and techniques in their quiver.

The third and final process of a person's CSS journey is the viva voce whereby the FPSC panel conducts interviews with the candidates. The respected individuals on interview panel should employ novel ideas and techniques to do their job in the most fruitful manner. World has changed a lot, and so should the FPSC. Decades-old methods aren't workable in this modern digital world.

The CE-2013 Final Result gives a hint that while conducting interviews, the panellists might have used their own acumen to allocate candidates to the group they may fit in the most. Besides, the result also suggests that the candidates, who had studied at prestigious institutions like LUMS, GIKI, UET, GCU, QAU, Cadet College Hasan Abdal, etc., won most allocations. Though it looks a good strategy, yet it, too, cannot be absolutely free of lacunae. A smart candidate can outfox the panellists as they usually have only 25-30 minutes to assess a person; that is too sufficient to make the right decision. In addition, the graduates of institutions of high repute belong mostly to the families who are too wealthy and influential to have understanding of the problems of those whom they are supposed to serve. These problems must be addresses ASAP.

Another blessing idea in this regard can be the fact that after allocation, the would-be officers are sent to Civil Services Academy (CSA) for a Common Training Programme (CTP); the third phase of CSS exam. At the Academy, the trainers have ample time to assess a candidate's personality from all aspects. Former US President and a statesman par excellence, Abraham Lincoln, once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Same is the case with the officer under training at the CSA. Those who outsmarted the interviewers would surely get exposed here and their real aptitude and talent would come out before the trainers. Thus, it is highly solicited that the opinions of the CSA trainers be made a part of final recommendations.

It is also true that the trainees at the CSA many a time face discrimination on the basis of their occupational groups. This proves fatal to the self-confidence and self-esteem of an officer. If allocations are made after CTP, it would help in overcoming this problem because till then the trainers would have focussed solely on their talent. The provincial groupings at the CSA should also be dealt with iron hands as these mar the repute and prestige of the CSA. For this purpose, the Director General CSA should play his due role and introduce immediate reforms to enhance the training standard at the Academy.

Moreover, the module of Specialized Training Programme (STP) also needs an immediate revamp. New subjects should be added to make officers more vigilant and highly effective while performing their duties.

Here, it is also pertinent to mention about the hydra of inter-group wrangling for power. No professional group should be vested in absolute authority and the powers of all groups should be predefined to avoid this power tug-of-war. This only wastes the energy and precious time of officers who, while indulging in it, forget their basic duty — to serve the masses.

The abovementioned reforms can prove more effective and fruitful if the 'deputation culture' is rooted out. A person should serve that group in his whole career which he chose himself. This would serve the dual purpose. First, the officers would be sufficiently aware that they won't be sent to other groups on deputation, thus, they will strive wholeheartedly to excel in their job. Moreover, the aspirants to CSS will make relentless efforts to embark on a career they always had dreamt of.

Pakistan is in dire need of meritocracy. We should not bury our heads in sand and should come out of hibernation as early as possible. Above suggestions can serve as a beacon of hope to set our directions right. As it is said that room for improvement is always there, so, the FPSC should come out of slumber now and it must take initiatives to establish a sort of think tank that may comprise chairman and members of FPSC, all provincial chief secretaries, heads of officers' training institutions like Pakistan Administrative Staff College, Nepa, Nims, and intellectuals from various walks of life.
A country can only prosper if its bureaucracy is vigilant and is watchful of country's interests. This culture can only be cultivated if the officers have talent, and the job assigned to them befits their aspirations.


Source: Editorial: Jahangir World Times magazine