Revamping civil service | Shaheera Syed

A critical element for a strong administrative structure is an effective and responsive civil service. Pakistan’s administrative structure has many weaknesses which in turn impairs the proper implementation of policies in the country. The result is unmet expectations and undesired outcomes.

A thorough understanding of the civil service structure of Pakistan is required to correctly pinpoint the major problems in the area. Adoption of an open approach is a prerequisite to comprehend the shortcomings of the reforms that have been introduced in the past.

Despite being one of the strongest pillars of power in the country, these problems have persisted to exist since the inception of the country. So what do we do about them?

The first step should be to understand why these problems emerge and then a step by step process should be formulated to eliminate these problems. Surveys can be used to better understand the civil servants’ viewpoint and then a strategy for the solution of these problems can be devised. After identifying various alternatives, a cost benefit analysis should be undertaken to weigh these different alternatives. For example, the option of foreign assistance can be considered i.e., the foreign funding and training can be helpful to improve the civil service structure and knowledge about the different models implemented in various countries can also provide assistance.

Civil servants can only deliver if they know what is expected of them, if their duties are clearly charted out and if they can exercise their granted power of authority. This highlights the importance of able leadership which not only states the vision but also makes sure that it is inculcated in every institute of the government. Once the civil servants realise the importance of their work, they may be more responsive towards the people.

Efficient delivery system can be insured if the workers are adequately motivated. This can be done by focusing on the ‘public service’ element of the work. There may be more motivation and less corruption if the civil servants derive a sense of satisfaction from their work. Motivational theories can be used to provide assistance. For example, Frederick Taylor’s approach to provide financial benefits can act as a motivator. Civil servants at the lower ranks should also be given adequate facilities so they don’t feel alienated. As suggested by the Asian report on the civil service of Pakistan, low salaries, insecure tenure and use of personal contacts for promotion sets the precedent for widespread corruption.

If we follow the advice given by political pundits like Woodrow Wilson, there should be a separation between politics and administration. But in a politically charged country like Pakistan it is extremely difficult, if not impossible. One way out is to provide custom training to civil servants to deal with political pressure in an effective way. Rigorous implementation of the merit based system can be used to counter the appointments made on the basis of patronage. Discussion should be encouraged on the topic of recruitments of the retired military officers in the Civil Service of Pakistan. We have to collectively decide whether that is the direction that we want our civil service to head in.

A proper system of accountability should be developed. A body could be formed with the aim to overlook the activities of the civil servants, be it the empowerment of the Federal Public Service Commission. Such a body should also be given the powers to make recommendations for improvements and weightage should be given to their suggestions. A free and fair system will not only ensure that competitive and qualified people will keep on joining the civil service but it will also ensure that such people will not quit the service.

The increased role of media can be used to highlight the cases of patronage and corruption to prevent further cases. Civil servants should be held accountable to the parliament regarding the efficient use of the resources. Moreover, a legal inquiry should be held against the corrupt and they should be fined or fired, if necessary. This system is already in place but it needs to be made more efficient.

The issue of lack of proper skill set of the civil servants has surfaced time and again. As a long term strategy, the importance of the public administration courses should be highlighted among the academics in Pakistan. Every now and then the senior serving public administrators should give assistance to students to pass them their wisdom. But different training programmes can be started to polish, upgrade and modernise the current working civil servants in Pakistan. Training programmes should also aim to impart critical thinking ability in the workers so that they can handle the problems effectively. It can also focus on ways as to how to strike a balance between efficiency and responsiveness. This is crucial because the civil servants help the public to form a perception about the government and an unresponsive civil service will not only cause unrest but will also result in lack of support of the government and its programmes.

It is also necessary to train not only the generalists but also the technocrats or the specialists. From traditional model of administration to new public management model, many developments have been made in this sector so an analysis should be done from time to time to see if the current practices are in line with such developments. No model or programme should be adapted to the letter, amendments should be made or those points should be taken which comply with the culture of Pakistan in this case. But change is important as the whole structure would collapse once the system stagnates. Innovation should be promoted.

There is a dire need to instill such a culture that promotes coordination among the various departments in the bureaucracy. This means there should be adequate and effective communication between the policymakers and the administrators as well in between the different hierarchical levels of the bureaucracy. Many reforms have been brought in Pakistan like the administrative reforms in 1973, devolution plan of 2001 and 18thamendment 2010 but real improvement will only take place if these reforms are implemented properly.

Civil servants should have adequate powers to exercise their stipulated responsibilities without worrying about political pressure or unintended consequences. It is high time that systematic checks on the performance of the civil servants, proper system of accountability, delegation of power and a clear vision should be developed to revamp the institute that due to its very nature has the most extensive control over the reins to power in Pakistan.

Shaheera Syed is a Research Adviser at the Foreign Affairs Committee of Pakistan. She can be reached at:, and on Twitter at: @ShaheeraSyed


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