Friday, 10 July 2009

Civil Service Reform---Please do it Right!

Minister Hina Khar reiterated the government’s commitment to do a Civil Service Reform (CSR) by December 2009. I am concerned like other reforms the government might botch this up too. So let us all write our thoughts on what kind of reform we are expecting to set up a standard for the government. Here are my ideas.

Let us begin by recognizing that civil service comprises the bulk of the executive and affects all aspects of society. The configuration of the civil service for a new society in a new century should be of serious interest to all. Consequently this reform should not be done in back rooms by the bureaucracy who are to be affected with at best some donor aid.

Reform should be developed through a process such as an independent commission comprised of (or backed up by) serious technical skills, intellectual firepower and certainly some fresh faces. The commission must do open consultation with civil society and many segments of society. Donor input if any should be subjected to local public scrutiny and not just implemented.

The Key principles of reform must be clearly understood and debated in Parliament and passed into law. CSR is too important to be left to administrative change in rules alone.

What then are the principles that such a reform should seek?

First, civil service independence must be guaranteed by law. This can only be done if all law wnsures that all key decisions about the running of the service (recruitment, promotions, transfers, pay and pensions) are protected from any interference. Of course all these things happen under legal guidelines but that is all. MNAs and ministers should not be able to control civil service appointments at any level.

Second, civil service should not be viewed as a monolith comprising of all government employees. Currently Unified Pay Scales (UPS) which are a hangover of the socialist, planning days seek to place all services on an artificial relative scale so that doctors and professors are considered inferior to administrators. This seriously impedes professional development and should be discontinued. UPS should be abolished and professions and government agencies (or professions) should be allowed to establish their own pay scales within their budgets!

Third, lifetime predetermined careers where promotions are guaranteed at known intervals have to be discontinued. Current entitlement mentality of civil servants has to end. Merit rather than entitlement should be initiated so that performance is rewarded.

Fourth, all civil service jobs should not be protected from external competition. The preferred scenario would be to open out recruitment to external competition! If that is not acceptable, all senior appointments (Secretary and Additional Secretary) should be based on worldwide competition. Public sector senior appointments affect so much; the best people should be sought for them.

Fifth, the current system of the federal government controlling provincial and local civil services is not conducive to good governance, federal development and economic growth. As in the rest of the world, each level of government must be independent. The provinces and cities should have their own employees and there is no reason that they should be paid less or regarded as inferior to the federal government. This is also the need of devolution.

Sixth, transfers should be recognized as a control device and should be discontinued. Frequent transfers are not helping productivity and should be questioned in Parliament. Like the rest of the world, appointments should be given tenure with new appointments being obtained through a competitive not a command process.

Seventh, perks which are now so connected with power, corruption and payment should be monetized. The current payment method is dysfunctional, induces corruption and adversely affects productivity. All perks should be monetized taking the government out of the business of providing houses and cars and paying utility bills. Salaries should be all in cash based on market comparators and indexed. Benefits should include no more than indexed, fair valued pensions and health care.

Eighth, the established practice of “public service should not be paid well” needs serious review. Public service positions are too important to be shortchanged. Public servants should be paid well in keeping with the heavy responsibilities they carry. All serious reforming countries have done that. Market based salaries should be given while appointments and promotions should be on merit and external competition.

Without a process for reform-- a serious commission led by thought and intellect and a public consultation—and the adoption of these principles, there will be no serious civil service reform! I am afraid till July we see no commission and no serious thinking. So forgive me Ms. Khar, if I say your statement is no more than politics as usual in Pakistan!