Shun Bureaucracy to Save Democracy!

Now that the PPP government is planning to create the proposed Saraiki province before its term ends, it might also take another big step to give real administrative powers to provinces by dissolving the current bureaucratic structure all together

“The civil service’s falling standards impact mostly Pakistan’s poor, widening social and economic divisions between the privileged and underprivileged.”


(International Crisis Group, Asia Report No. 185, February 16, 2010)

I had a rare chance to meet a group of visiting bureaucrats from Pakistan last year in Dallas. These were civil service police officers representing the four provinces who were touring America as part of the U.S. Department of State program. When I heard the visitors are interested in meeting Pakistanis in the United States, I arranged a meeting with them along with two other friends in a local restaurant.

I was curious to know the mainstream thinking of the Central Superior Service of Pakistan (CSSP) officers on major national issues. We discussed several issues during our discussion including terrorism, corruption law and order, and administration. The whole discussion was an eye opening experience for me.

I was amazed to learn that there is no difference of efficiency, quality and professionalism between Pakistani and American organizations, as they claimed. To them, media, police or bureaucracy in Pakistan are as efficient as American institutions but the main difference is technology and resources. We heard the phrase again and again, “if we have the same level of technology as the U.S. we would be able to perform at the same level of quality and efficiency.” It was interesting to know that technology was mentioned as the main reason why Pakistan is behind and America is way ahead!

On corruption, they said it is the low level employees who are involved in corruption but all officers are honest and hard working! It looks our bureaucrats, after sixty years of ruling the masses, either live in an imaginary paradise of their own or they showed a different face to us, the naive Pakistani Americans, who don’t know what’s going on back home!

As we know, Pakistan’s civil service is the legacy of our former British rulers who established the Indian Civil Service (ICS) in 1886to face the realities of that time as they perceived them. Their main intention was to create a self-evolving system as a second tier of local administration where individuals meant nothing serving as part of a dynamic and hierarchal system. It was initially made to be self evolving to ensure continuity without involving the British Empire, thousands of miles away from India who didn’t have to worry about day-to-day administrative issues but ensured their control over administrative and economic machinery through a handful of colonial administrators in India.

With these objectives in mind, the civil service structure still provides a well-organized system of selection, training, appointment and promotion of officers, based not on creativity and efficiency but loyalty and seniority in the system. Probably that’s why officers are posted, reposted, appointed and transferred invariably and the system goes on without any disruption.

This is a unique, centralized system with a federally administrated hierarchal structure. British rulers created it to serve their purpose by forming a self-serving group of local rulers as their agents. Even though the time has changed and there are several sovereign nations in South Asia, the legacy of the colonial raj is still well and alive in the region.

In India where the political system became stronger than other institutions, civil servants are subservient to political leaders. In Pakistan, however, with the army and feudal becoming stronger, civil service has become a strong tool of the establishment to undermine the political process and judiciary playing in the hands of armed forces.

Civil bureaucracy in these circumstances became a supreme ruling group above the executive, legislature and judiciary. After independence, our civil service officers effectively replaced colonial rulers and assumed the role of an internal colonialist structure at best. Their training model follows the British system, they speak their language and they expect the same kind of treatment from their subjects.

These developments have created a wide bridge between the masses and their “civil servants.” Although their importance has been slowly eroded, civil servants still enjoy a high economic and social status. Because the main concerns of the British raj was maintaining power and control, the organization was not created to improve economy, boost development or devise creative solutions to emerging issues of the common citizen.

Efficiency has never been the main concern of this bureaucratic structure as the whole objective was to maintain status quo and follow the rules strictly. Sycophancy and corruption, after independence, have further devastated the whole structure. The organization has become nothing but a strong tool of maintaining control of the ruling junta over its masses.

The above mentioned International Crisis Group, that issues reports on important global crises, developed a report on Pakistan’s bureaucracy in 2010. The report concluded:

“In public perceptions, the country’s 2.4 million civil servants are widely seen as unresponsive and

corrupt, and bureaucratic procedures cumbersome and exploitative. Bureaucratic dysfunction and low capacity undermine governance, providing opportunities to the military to subvert the democratic transition and to extremists to destabilize the state. The civilian government should prioritize reforms that transform this key institution into a leaner, more effective and accountable body.”


Based on these astonishing findings, the report proposed several recommendations:

  1. Ending the practice of having senior appointments subject to evaluation and clearance by the military’s intelligence agencies.
  2. Reducing excessive centralization of functions and developing administrative and financial authority to lower tiers, with effective oversight.
  3. Modifying Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) to include tangible, performance-oriented criteria instead of subjective evaluations of officers’ character.
  4. Reversing the quota for the District Management Group (federal) appointees to provincial posts so that 75 percent of these posts are reserved for provincial civil servants.
  5. Empowering federal and provincial ombudsmen to redress public grievances against bureaucratic malpractices.
  6. Mandating parliamentary committees to review and approve senior civil service appointments to ensure that they are made on merit rather than personal or political affiliation.
  7. Devolving authority to Tehsil officials to issue legal documents rather than the district headquarters.

Although worth considering, most of these recommendations are meant to improve the existing civil service structure. However, after half-a-century of continuing a system of administration developed by colonial rulers, it is time to reinvent the wheel and propose a new administrative structure suitable for the 21st century conditions.

PPP now has a strong mandate in the senate and national assembly. A new parliamentary committee might take a fresh look at the civil service structure to propose a new system. After devolving power to provincial units, the current democratic government should also consider devolving the civil service structure and breaking it into federal and provincial organizations separate from each other where provinces will have full authority to recruit, train, appoint and promote civil service employees based on the values of merit and efficiency.

The proposed provincial civil services will have a communication link with the federal government and   strong links with other provinces for recruitment, training and technological collaboration. The following figure indicates links for new federal and provincial civil service structures. It includes five provinces, the four existing and the proposed Saraiki province.


Figure 1: Conceptual Framework of Proposed Civil Service Structure


PN CS=Punjab Civil Service

SN CS=Sindh Civil Service,

BL CS=Baluchistan Civil Service

KP CS=Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Civil Service

SK CS=Saraiki Civil Service.

Under the proposed arrangement, selection of civil service employees will be based on a credible merit system where new employees will be able to take entry exams in their professional fields and educational disciplines.

Now that the PPP government is planning to create the proposed Saraiki province before its term ends, it might also take another big step to give real administrative powers to provinces by dissolving the current bureaucratic structure all together.

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