First things First: Reforming the CSS

Qasim Ali Khan proposes three changes for recruitment in the civil services

First things First: Reforming the CSS
While there is a lot to change about the colonial-styled bureaucratic structure in Pakistan, the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) must bring well-thought-out reforms in the Central Superior Services (CSS) induction patterns, eligibility criteria and decades-old rules. Of course, there are certain difficulties, divergent perspectives and so many barriers to reform the worn-out structure of the CSS induction. However, it needs instant reforms because it is the bottom line of all the next-level reforms.

The Central Superior Services are the most privileged yet highly competitive services in Pakistan. For selection into these services, candidates are scrutinized by passing them through a challenging examination process comprising written, psychological and medical tests – and an interview. Although the FPSC gives a tough time to the candidates in a series of testing procedures, it still ends up recruiting mediocre minds instead of sifting out the brilliant ones.

How can a medical doctor be an expert in foreign affairs? Similarly, how is it logical to hand over public administration to an engineer? Can a military officer, who is well-trained in battlefield procedures, run civil institutions effectively? How can the FPSC recruit candidates into key public offices on random selection without any specific qualifications? These are the key questions that the FPSC must look into. Historically, several attempts to reform the CSS have been made. Unfortunately, none could bring a substantial change. And the inefficient bureaucracy continues suffering through the pathetic situation.

So, what to do next? Who should be eligible for the CSS?

Three fundamental reforms in induction criteria will lead to a far more efficient bureaucracy and pave the path for high-level reforms in the future. First, the minimum qualification required for the CSS exam should be sixteen years of education with a subsequent uniform age limit of 30 years for all the candidates. The regional difference in age limit should be eradicated. Today, the education system has completely transformed from BA/BSc (two-year degrees) to BS/BA Honours (four-year degrees), but the FPSC is still practicing the old criteria. Candidates who have not gone through university life and have done a private BA also appear in the examination. Though few are selected, even a few with insufficiently rigorous qualifications are not suitable for high offices.
Power-seeking professional degree-holders waste the government’s money as well as snatch the public sector’s subsidized seats from other candidates who are actually passionate to pursue their professional careers

Second, engineers and medical doctors qualified from public sector institutions should be barred from appearing in the CSS exam. Rather than practicing what they are being trained for on public money, these professional degree-holders seek power through appearing in the CSS. They are wasting the government’s resources. Approximately four to five million rupees are spent by the government on each doctor in her/his five years in MBBS, BDS, and other professional degrees. If they switch their career or stop practicing after degree completion, then they should at the very least return the cost of their degrees to the government. More importantly, these professionals also waste public seats while entering the institutions for a career that they will leave later. In other words, these power-seeking professional degree-holders waste the government’s money as well as snatch the public sector’s subsidized seats from other candidates who are actually passionate to pursue their professional careers. After all, there should be some accountability at the grassroot level too!

Third, the ten percent reserved quota for the armed forces—a remnant of General Zia’s military regime—should come under scrutiny. It is a grave injustice to the civil aspirants who work hard day and night for several months—sometimes even years—to qualify this exam. Unlike them, the military officers do not go through such a tough time preparing for the written examination. More importantly, the military officers are recruited in the top three groups in the Civil Services of Pakistan, i.e., Foreign Service of Pakistan (FSP), Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) (former DMG)  and Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). This infringes upon the merits of the CSS examination. On the 8th of May 2018, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court asked the chairman of the FPSC while hearing a petition about this quota: “whether the government recovers any expense incurred on their training in respective academies of the army, the air force and the navy from them at the time they join the bureaucracy?” In other words, millions of rupees are spent on each military inductee from joining to later professional training in the military academies. These rupees are not refunded from those officers who later join the civil bureaucracy. Interestingly, these military inductees have only twelve years of regular education. Later, they get professional military training rather than traditional education in their respective academies.

As a result of these fundamental reforms, the selection procedure would become relatively easy for the FPSC. Instead of taking one-and-a-half year to announce the final allocations, it can be done within a few months as there will be fewer candidates. Because of barring professional fields, candidates from less developed areas will decrease, which may lead to vacant seats. However, it is not about the eligibility criteria, but the examination patterns. The current examination system is further promoting the class-based education system. CSS toppers of the last three years have their educational backgrounds from the elite educational institutes inside and outside the country. The solution lies only in focused reforms. A series of examinations targeting candidates through specific questions can bring more brilliant minds to the bureaucracy from across the country.

Reforms with the passage of time lead to development. Pakistan’s bureaucracy needs attention in terms of reforms that are actually practical. Beginning right from the recruitment process will prove beneficial for later reforms. And at the later stages, issues such as promotion, pay-scale, protocol, tenure security, and others can be addressed.

The writer is a journalist. He tweets at @khanzqasim