FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 13

Bureaucracy’s overhaul

The government has announced a reform package to improve the performance of the bureaucracy. However, critics say the reforms are just window dressing and would not change civil servants or national institutions, according to ever-changing requirements of the economy and the common people.

It is a fact that Pakistan has lagged behind the world and regional countries because of the poor performance of its bureaucracy, which failed to change itself according to modern trends. Most critics believe the bureaucracy is behind every problem of the country and the failure of successive governments, democratic and dictatorial regimes alike. People are facing serious issues in education, healthcare and other sectors because of the failure of the bureaucracy. Hence, it is crucial to make the bureaucrats accountable to people and the political leadership of the country through serious reforms — and not cosmetic changes — for effective governance and efficient delivery of quality public services. Governments come and go but the bureaucracy permanently rules the country and it has resisted every effort to reform it and the system. It is generally believed that the new reforms would only address procedural improvements in the rules of business, rather than making it to suit modern-day requirements of the country.

According to the government, the reforms in the civil service would pave the way for forced retirement of inefficient officers and introduction of tough criteria for promotion of bureaucrats. Under the Civil Servants Efficiency and Discipline (E&D) Rules 2020, promotion of a civil servant would be deferred if they are facing any criminal proceedings. If an inquiry, investigation or reference is pending against an official in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or any other investigation agency, their promotion would be deferred. However, their promotion could now be recommended in cases related to sub-judice seniority and disciplinary or criminal cases pending for more than three years. The revised weightages notified for promotion include 40 per cent for personal evaluation reports, and 30pc each for training and evaluation by the Central Selection Board. To ensure transparency, reasons for deferment and supersession would be conveyed to officials concerned. For retirement from service, the composition of retirement boards and committees has been finalised, which include the chairman of the Federal Public Service Commission for officials in BS-20 and above, the secretary for officials in BS-17 to BS-19 and the senior joint secretary for officials in BS-16 and below. The grounds for directory retirement include adverse remarks in three performance evaluation reports or as many average reports, and being superseded twice.

Under the new rules, an inquiry against a government official would have to be decided within about 105 days, including 14 days for submission of response, 60 days for the inquiry committee and 30 days for the authority to decide the case. Earlier, no timeframe was fixed to conclude the proceedings and as a result, cases lingered on for years. An opportunity of personal hearing would be provided by the authority or hearing officer to the official against whom an inquiry is being conducted. Plea bargain and voluntary return have been included in the definition of misconduct and civil servants involved in the practices would now be proceeded against. One of the main features of the rules is that in case of an inquiry, the case would be heard by the authority, an inquiry officer or a committee, rather than an authorised officer, who is assigned to decide the issue. Earlier, it was seen that whenever an official was assigned to hold an inquiry, they usually disposed of the matter by awarding a minor penalty under some influence or pressure. They could also decide the case in whatever time they deemed appropriate. However, the authority would now have to decide the case in 30 days. According to the new rules, in case of officers of the Pakistan Administration Service (PAS) and Police Service of Pakistan posted in the provinces, a two-month timeline has been provided to the chief secretary to submit a fact-finding report, failing which the Establishment Division can proceed on its own. Timelines have been introduced at every step of the proceedings. The procedural issues related to the provision of record, slackness on part of department representatives, suspension and proceedings against officers on deputation, leave and scholarship have been clearly provided in the new rules. The Establishment Division has been authorised to issue subsidiary instructions to avoid any delay in finalising the inquiries. In the case of multiple suspected officers in a single case, restriction of appointing a single inquiry officer has been imposed to ensure transparency and avoid different decisions.

Critics say the reforms are not new as the key measures announced by the government were part of laws introduced by former President General Pervez Musharraf, which failed to bring about any change in the bureaucracy or other departments and institutions of the country. The only difference is that the reforms in Musharraf’s era were introduced through an ordinance or notified through the Establishment Division and parts of them were later struck down by courts.

Analysts say the changes in the rules and procedures cannot be called reforms as they will not reform the bureaucracy and force it to deliver, while the ruling party had highly raised the expectations of people by setting up a committee and announcing comprehensive, wide-ranging reforms almost two years ago. The failure of the bureaucracy means governance will not improve and the common people will continue to suffer.