It is well-known that the bureaucratic machinery of the country feels its spirit sagging by the day and there appear no signs of addressing their difficulties. Apparently the relevant political authorities including the prime minister kept on assuring the bureaucracy that it will not be prosecuted for carrying on its tasks according to rules and regulations but practically their hands are tied by a rampage resorted to by the prevalence of so-called accountability campaign. The situation has now reached a point where the administrative structure of the country has started considering it prudent to sit still and weather the storm.
On the other hand, the political executive also harbours many complaints against the performance of the bureaucratic machinery as is borne out by the dissatisfaction expressed by a senior political office holder. Asad Umar has censured bureaucracy for ignoring directives to undertake community schemes that are recommended by parliamentarians amid an overall low development spending that remains at only 42% of the budget. He complained that an overwhelming majority of the PM’s directives remain buried in files of the planning ministry. Not only that but this year’s Public Sector Development Programme also faces significant execution problems as the ministries remain unable to utilise funds that the planning ministry has already authorised, even for crucial projects like COVID-19, Diamer-Bhasha Dam, Greater Karachi Water Supply scheme, Kacchi Canal project and Naulong dam project.
Umar is not the only person in Imran Khan’s cabinet who has issues with the way the bureaucracy is working. Even Prime Minister Imran Khan suspects that the bureaucracy was deliberately letting the PTI government down and he had come to the conclusion that the bureaucracy was failing his government by design. Where the cabinet has complaints against the bureaucracy, the civil servants too seem unhappy with the PTI government. They complain of being judged as favouring political parties and are not trusted accordingly.
As if NAB menace was enough, the bureaucracy also suffers from the arbitrarily designed promotion regime. The disappointment of the PTI government at the go-slow performance exhibited by the bureaucracy appears to have been primarily instrumental in increasing discretionary powers of the Central Selection Board (CSB) for promotion of senior civil servants to higher grades. The latest development is that senior civil servants are asked to come and work in Islamabad before they are considered for further promotion. It is quite obvious that this requirement is arbitrary in nature.
Keeping in view curbing the widespread demoralisation of the official machinery, the political rulers constituted two task forces mandated to suggest measures for instituting civil service reforms aimed at austerity and restructuring. However, the main emphasis of the task forces was on saving the bureaucratic set-up from the ever-extending clutches of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that was proving increasingly nerve-wracking. Both the task forces accordingly suggested restraining the NAB from proceeding against a serving or retired civil servant without the approval of supervisory committees at the federal and provincial levels. The proposals are aimed at addressing the complaints by civil servants alleging intimidation and humiliation at the hands of NAB.
Many amendments were suggested in the NAB legislation that was causing problems for civil servants in discharging their duties without fear. It was proposed that no investigation or reference be initiated or no arrest made of a person unless NAB has placed the prima-facie case before a supervisory committee for its approval to proceed with the reference, investigation or arrest. As such the supervisory committee would assist the bureau in filtering out the investigation process by deciding whether there is sufficient prima facie evidence to proceed with investigation or arrest by the NAB.
It was pointed out that a person being proceeded against would include anyone who is or has been in the service of the state which would include contractual or ex-officio appointments. In order to bring out clarity, the definition of person was elaborated upon. It was agreed that this definition would only cover government servants and not political figures holding public offices. The supervisory committees would consist of a retired judge of a high court, three persons who have served as secretary to the federal government or in an equivalent position and whose retirement from service occurred at least two years before the date of appointment to the supervisory committee, a senior chartered accountant, a senior banker, and a senior civil engineer, a domain specialist who can be co-opted.
It is more than obvious that the government should strike a balance and be able to convey a sense to government servants that there were adequate safeguards in place before a reference was moved against them and at the same time pave the way to strengthen internal accountability and provide assistance to NAB if an offence was traced. The matter is still under consideration and the bureaucracy is in state of limbo because it is not sure about what course of action in the future to take.
The larger discretionary clout given to CSB was generally resented in the past as it placed more than a quarter of authority at the whim of an incumbent CSB. According to the new rules, the CSB, which earlier had 15 out of total 100 marks, has now got 30 marks on its discretion. In addition to the CSB’s 30 marks, 40 are reserved for the annual confidential reports (ACRs) and remaining 30 for professional courses. It is pertinent to mention that the courts had struck down the discretionary power of the CSB in the past that was being exercised on the pretext of integrity of civil servants.
Such policy created tremendous heartburn within the ranks of the civil service and a rather junior civil servant running the show in the office of the PM was blamed for favouring his own set of officers in gaining rather rapid promotions. However, the new rules suggest the CSB members would also be free to consider marks on the basis of intelligence reports as it specifically mentions that for promotion to top posts, the CSB can take into account the information received against the officer concerned. This practice was also widely resented and it was mentioned that the intelligence agencies had prepared suitable reports that could fit the requirements of the CSB.
The government side is defending its stance by mentioning that the CSB generally makes objective assessment as it examines each and every officer for promotion. It is also mentioned that the ACRs were not a yardstick to gauge the officers as in the cases of civil servants almost every officer got an outstanding ACR. They justify the measure by stating that the proposal to enhance the powers of the CSB was forwarded by the secretaries committee headed by the cabinet secretary and comprising all federal secretaries. The CSB denied promotions to scores of senior bureaucrats on the basis of this criterion by invoking the integrity-related clause. These officers initially challenged the discretionary marks of the CSB before the superior courts and ultimately the unfettered powers of CSB were set aside. On many occasions in the past the Supreme Court of Pakistan intervened to reduce the discretion trying to ensure that promotions process remained objective. TW00