|Reforms in Pakistan's Civil Service
Daily: Pakistan Today
(under a pseudonym: Anwar Ali)
Mediocrity has become the hallmark of Pakistan’s civil service. Maladies are rampant and
numerous ranging from stupor, ineptitude, underperformance to misconduct.
In the beginning of June, Civil Service Reforms supremo Dr Ishrat Hussain revealed to the
media the reform agenda the incumbent government carries for Pakistan’s civil service. The
major focus of Hussain’s talk was on the bureaucratic structure and system to undergo
transformation. The gamut of emphasis was from induction, recruitment, training,
performance, promotion, salary, compensation, and retirement to institution building,
devolution, accountability and service delivery.
The fallacy driving Hussain is that the mode of induction can be improved to add substance
to the reform agenda. Hussain refuses to see the pre-induction state of affairs run by the
Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), which conducts a yearly examination of Central
Superior Services (CSS) for recruitment in Basic Pay Scale 17. If the induction process is
flawed, recruitment cannot contribute to the reform agenda. In the heart of the recruitment
process lies the FPSC, without reforming which the whole superstructure of reforms in
Pakistan’s civil service would be redundant.
On 17 June, the FPSC declared the final result of CSS-2019. If Hussain should bother to
pick up and read English essays of first ten successful candidates to fathom the quality of
induction, he Hussain should see to what extent the essays bore a shred of originality, to
what extent the essays were relevant to the topics asked, and to what extent the essays
expressed analysis. Hussain would find the top ten successful candidates attempting one of
three essays: (a) New war fronts lie in economic zones, (b) Democracy and illiteracy do not
move together, and (c) Expanding information technology: a curse or blessing. The reason
is that the FPSC is infatuated with a few topics such as education, poverty, illiteracy,
population, feminism, women rights, corruption, democracy, terrorism, energy crisis, global
warming, social media, and the CPEC. These are oft-repeated topics and these are
Pakistan’s civil service has been faltering to provide effective governance and sound public
services. The FPSC is a partner in crime. Without reforming the examination system of the
FPSC, no induction is fruitful and no reform agenda is effective
On these topics are existing now generational essays loaded with quotations and statistics
to dupe an examiner into believing that the candidate has produced a high quality original
essay. Generational essays are the essays that travel from father to son and from an elder
brother and sister to younger ones. A variation is also the manufactured essays that
teachers hand down to their pupils every year gilded with the lofty claims of a hundred
percent guarantee of success.
On the part of candidates appearing for the examination, the only trick required is to shuffle
adroitly the points and statistics given in these generational and manufactured essays to
produce a desired stuff to show as if the candidate had spent months to gather the
expressed knowledge. The moment the essay-checker is tricked into believing the
pretense, the task is accomplished. This is how the FPSC is a main agency of recruiting the
candidates who not only rely on rote learning, but who also know how to dupe an examiner.
The successful candidates are considered the cream of Pakistan– the cream that cannot
write an original essay to produce new knowledge and the cream that relies on the
cramming and regurgitation of knowledge. When this cream is permitted to run the
administrative affairs of the country, no reform can yield results. Reforms are bound to
founder on the ailing decrepit system that the FPSC erects every year.
In principle, the purpose of examining an essay, as a compulsory subject, is to see if a
candidate has developed an ability to produce original new knowledge in an organized
convincing manner entailing a plausible conclusion. That is it. When this objective
collapses, the whole idea of conducting the examination of an English essay is defeated.
In the past few years, it has been observed that some officials of the FPSC whisper in the
ears of the heads of certain CSS coaching academies the best guess on English essays.
Mostly CSS coaching academies running businesses in Islamabad and Lahore avail
themselves of this privilege. Similarly, to these academies the names of head examiners
setting papers for compulsory and optional subjects are leaked. The leakage helps the
recipients guess the preferred area of the examiner to ask questions from and the way
answers should be constructed.
Hussain does not know that the FPSC is lax to the connections of its officials with CSS
coaching academies. For instance, the FPSC made the latest changes in the CSS syllabus
in 2016. With that, a chain of favouritism burgeoned. Writers and book publishers with right
connections got their books approved by the FPSC to be included in the recommended
book list for compulsory and optional subjects. Similarly, a book publisher got its magazine
recommended by the FPSC as the FPSC-approved official magazine for CSS candidates.
Reportedly, three FPSC officials were monetarily compensated for extending this favour.
Nobody knows what criterion of inclusion or exclusion the FPSC established for selecting a
book or a magazine for recommendation.
Hussain should also be interested in understanding the reason for the CSS candidates with
a degree from either Lahore University of Management Sciences or Lahore School of
Economics opting for the subject of Punjabi. When a member of the English chirping class
opts for Punjabi in the CSS examination, there must be some science to it. The answer,
however, is simple. Like other regional languages, Punjabi holds the potential for giving
more than 80 percent marks which create a world of difference when an average optional
subject is oozing out 60 percent marks. It is not known what role any excellence in Punjabi
plays in the official and professional development of a civil servant, other than offering a
hoist to ratchet up overall marks of the candidate. Hussain should tell the nation the way
any brilliance in regional languages contributes to the construction of careers of civil
The base line is simple: Pakistan’s civil service has been faltering to provide effective
governance and sound public services. The FPSC is a partner in crime. Without reforming
the examination system of the FPSC, no induction is fruitful and no reform agenda is
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