Reforming the bureaucracy had been a major part of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s administrative plan. It is no secret that there had been a litigant of complaints against the bureaucratic process—it has been criticised as one which lets corruption off the hook, of not being a meritocratic structure, that its system does not prioritise deliverance and that it is still continuing the colonial-era legacy with its hierarchies and its commitment to structure rather than performance.
While there have been attempts to reform the civil service, with some good efforts being made with the Police system, there was still indisputable need for some institutional change. The PTI government has now unveiled some of the most sweeping changes—the government okayed the Civil Servants (E&D) Rules-2020 in December, and on Wednesday, Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood announced some major reforms, with the intention to introduce more accountability.
How do the new reforms help? A consistent complaint with the civil services had been that it was too stable an occupation—an officer could work till retirement, even with weak performance, with little evaluation. The reforms are designed to inculcate more transparency on performance and have more evaluation methods by transferring the authority from a hierarchical one to the new appointing authorities. Promotion will be made with more scrutiny, to hold those with corruption allegations or pending investigations to account. More discipline and efficiency rules have also been announced.
These reforms are good and are bound to increase transparency and keep the civil service on its toes—for a while. The struggle of the bureaucracy is not lack of rules but also a culture of slow work and inefficiency. The government will need to keep checking on the appointing authorities to make sure the rules are being followed; otherwise, that same culture could seep in the accountability mechanisms as well. One step towards countering that would be to make enquiries and the civil service process more public so the authorities are accountable to the public, as well as the government.