Thursday, 8 April 2010

Inside the minds of civil servants!

Civil service sits at the heart of most economic systems controlling and often adjudication information, regulation and property rights. It either determines or controls the means to policymaking, legislation and rules in society. If this machine is not well oiled and kept in constant good order, the economy, even society fails.

Demoralized!

Yet our civil service has one of the lowest approval ratings as well as the highest rating for and a strong suspicion of corruption anywhere. In a survey of Civil Servants that we conducted at the PIDE in 2007 we found that the Civil servants to be quite demoralized. They acknowledge that the service is corrupt and that their public approval rating is low. They were aware that corruption is a serious problem. In addition there seems to be no trust in the accountability process, i.e., corruption is not penalized.

The colonial civil service was reared to be independent, thinking and developmental. They put in place our legal structures, our system of property rights, our procedures of governance, and our communications system. They were largely honest. Of course they were paid well and given respect.

No HRM

Today, our survey shows that the civil service has little faith in their human resource management! While acknowledging the benefits of meritocracy, they continue to prefer seniority-based promotion and reward system. Written job descriptions as well as criteria for performance evaluation are not used. Similarly ‘connections’ are perceived to be the major determinant of nominations for training especially foreign training. Background and abilities are not regarded as important for promotion, assignments and training.

Politicized

Over the years of our independence, the civil service has also been heavily politicized. Successive governments have conditioned the civil servant through a system of carrots and sticks. Carrots include lucrative perks, allowing corruption and choice positions, while sticks are based on rapid promotions and the weeding out of honorable and more capable members of the service. The survey also confirms that the civil service fears that their independence has been curbed through repeated political interference.

Open recruitment

In the old days the best and the brightest went into the civil service. They were well trained and confident of being the best. Today the survey shows that the civil service fears competition. While Grade 22 respondents with no more promotions to look forward want to open out recruitment, the junior grades wish to restrict the entry of professionals to the grade 17. Strange that they should want highly qualified people to come in at such junior levels.

We were surprised to find that despite low salaries, the majority is satisfied with their civil service job. Those in the Police record a higher level of satisfaction than others because of power and other possibilities. Those in the Foreign Service and Commerce and Trade also show higher job satisfaction than others possibly because of choice foreign postings. When salary and professionalism are both compromised it is not surprising that elements such as corruption, comfortable postings, power brokering come to the fore.

Despite recording low levels of job satisfaction, high levels of corruption and low self esteem, majority of the officers surveys indicated they would like to stay in civil service. Could this be because they have limited market opportunities?

Perks

When I talk about perks to the few civil servants who are around from the sixties, they are shocked to see what a public servant gets today. Government houses are being converted into palaces at tax payer’s expense. A fleet of cars for personal use! Publicly provided servants! Bills paid! Recreational clubs especially for civil servants! Several paying board memberships! Plots given at cheap prices! With this in mind, we asked our current civil servants on the possibility of monetization of perks. Majority agreed with monetization of all perks.

While the survey shows a preference for monetization, it is always rejected when it is proposed. Perhaps this is because perks are mostly a non-transparent method of payment. Entrepreneurial and well networked individuals seek to maximize them. Perks will therefore be quite unequally distributed among the public servants with the better connected and aggressive individuals being able to collect more perks.

Given this lack of transparency and unequal distribution of perks, any effort to monetize perks would find it difficult to value perks at a level where monetisation would be acceptable to all. This may explain why a majority prefer monetisation but yet in reality it may not happen!

Retirement

In the old days a civil servant retired comfortably in the upper middle class of society. Pensions were good and in a stable non-inflationary environment they had a happy old age. Our survey found that low levels of pension that were eaten up very quickly by inflation affected the behavior of civil servants. The fact that a civil servant has to wait till 60 to collect his pension had kept many trapped at the expense of efficiency in the system. Recognizing this, a majority of respondents in our survey favored portability of pensions and monetization of perks. Portable pensions cut down the cost of switching jobs and hence encourage mobility.

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This little survey has told us a lot about our civil service and its attitude to work, society and reform. I think most reasonable analysts will argue that without developing a more professional and productive civil service, economic progress would be difficult. We must therefore think of ways to reform the civil service. I would argue that such a reform needs to be informed by more surveys like this. We need to address the needs of the civil servant and carry her with us in making this reform.

Unlike the west, the media does not really take to such research. In the more advanced countries, this survey would have been the subject of many columns and talk shows. In Pakistan, such surveys go unnoticed!

What surprised me more is that our economists and public policy analysts also do not pay enough attention to the civil service.

If u want a copy of the full report, please contact me.