May 13, 2010

Flawed approach

Dozens of committees have been formed to look into the problem areas of civil services with limited success

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

The Civil Service Reforms (CSRs) in Pakistan have always been crucial, at least on paper, during the tenure of every government and on the priority list of international organisations. Dozens of committees have been formed over decades to look into the problem areas. They were supposed to suggest reforms in the civil services -- that can serve the citizens the best without putting heavy strains on the state's coffers. Even today the Government of Pakistan has established a Civil Service Reform (CSRs) Unit within the Establishment Division. As per details, this unit serves as Secretariat to the Cabinet Committee on Civil Service Reforms and monitors government's reforms programme.

When we talk about CSRs we are often vague and not sure what they exactly denote. In words of Dr Sania Nishtar, a researcher and activist, "the denotation of civil service reform in the reform jargon is not an isolated or a defined restructuring measure, but a set of locally-suited interventions centered on restructuring laws, codes of conduct, remuneration norms, institutional devices, and policy frameworks."

In her article on 'The Importance of Civil Service Reform' published in The News on Feb 27, she says, "By-and-large, administrative restructuring was used as a tool by many rulers for personal gains and political patronage in order to consolidate their bases. Over the years, therefore, a culture emerged where civil servants were patronised and promoted, not on merit but on perceived loyalty to their respective unnamed political affiliations."

So, there is no doubt that all the efforts made at CSRs have failed miserably or achieved limited success mostly outdone by the flaws inherent in them. Many research studies have been taken up at different levels to find out the reasons behind repeated failures of these CSRs initiatives. The findings were elaborate but the most common were the interventions by different organs of state into the affairs of civil bureaucracy and its use to rule the populace and not serve them.

Talking to TNS, Dr Nadeem ul Haq, ex-Vice-Chancellor, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad refers to his concept paper 'Why Civil Service Reforms Do Not Work' published in 2007. He says, according to the concept paper available on PIDE:

"In many cases, the result was demoralisation and a further deterioration in the quality of government services as the public sector reacted to these strategic attacks on its recently expanded mandate in three ways: (i) by slowing down reform in critical areas to maintain its grip on resources; (ii) by seeking alternative means to make up for the real wage cut that public sector employees were experiencing: thus, "perks"-- legalised and non-transparent means of non-wage resource extraction -- became a major form of civil servants' emoluments while tolerance towards corruption significantly increased; and (iii) by the more skilled, less corrupt, and those seeking a more reform-oriented approach opting out of the public sector and, as opportunities shrank domestically, out of the country."

He says international financial and aid agencies have carried out CSRs in several countries but with very limited success. Public sector productivity remains low in many of these countries, wage bills high, and employment excessive despite these efforts.

Nadeem ul Haq writes in the same paper that Civil Service Reforms (CSR) acquired a certain prominence in development policy in the 1990s -- "More often than not, governments undertook CSR under budgetary pressure. Pressured by macroeconomic imbalances, many governments promised to cut the size of their bureaucracy on the advice of most international agencies. Experience has shown that even this limited objective was not achieved," he adds.

He suggests removal of non-cash perks because they are not related to job performances. Besides, they cannot be as large as other unrecorded perks. For example, in Pakistan, the major reward of public service is the provision of prime government-owned land at subsidised prices, he adds.

Concept paper 'Preference for Public Sector and Wait Unemployment' by Asma Hyder, Visiting Fellow, PIDE, Islamabad in 2007 mentions these perks to be the reason why the youth look for public sector jobs. She writes, "that the preference for a public sector job is perhaps influenced more by fringe-benefits and work conditions than by wage rates. For example, the most pronounced issue for preference for a public sector is working hours."

The paper states "public sector is committed to providing workers with reasonable hours of work, which must not exceed 48 hours per week. Workers must be provided with at least one day off in each seven-day period. Overtime work is a key issue for many enterprises, due to tight deadlines imposed by buyers, and the need to accommodate rush orders… Protection in the form of annual leave, sick leave, and special leave is determined by law in the public sector."

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