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Civil Service Reforms That Work

  • Miftah Ismail
  • July, 2019
  • 203
  • Getting Governance Right


Most of the failures were not due to a lack of ideas or recommendations, but rather due to an inability to implement reforms. And this inability sprang from reluctance on the part of the bureaucracy to accept reforms.

Dr Ishrat, adviser to PM and former SBP governor, is eminently qualified to head the civil services reforms committee, having written extensively on the subject, so we can hope for recommendations that are both realistic and far-reaching. Realistic because recommendations that are not owned by the bureaucracy will have no chance of being implemented. Reforms that are too far-reaching or too disruptive may just be, as they were in the past, dead-on-arrival.

To keep things tractable, let’s divide our federal bureaucracy in two parts - the lower cadres of grades one to 16 and the higher cadres of grades of 17 to 22. People from grades one to 16 are mostly paid wages that are competitive with the market, and provided guaranteed employment until retirement at age 60. There is tremendous over-employment in these grades, with the government having more drivers, gardeners and telephone operators than it needs. I would guess that about one-third of those currently employed are needed and the other two thirds are on a stipend. Our country and its economy would be better off if these telephone operators, rather than sitting idly in office all day, are employed as salespersons or computer programmers. In government they are essentially adding no value. But realistically and humanely we can now only reduce this size through retirements. Reducing this work force are the kind of austerity measures that are required to realistically reduce government expenses.

It is the other group, officers in grades 17 to 22, that is considered the heart of the bureaucracy, the people who run the engine of the government. A few hundred of them are hired each year in grade 17 as young officers and most everyone goes on to retire on grades 21 or 22. These people also have security of tenure; they don’t really specialise, except in foreign service; and are paid much less than their market value and the responsibilities entrusted to them. It is here that real reform is urgently needed. Recommendations: (“Governing the Ungovernable” by Dr. Ishrat Hussain)

1. Increase salaries to bring to market-competitive ones. Higher salaries must be based on performance and responsibilities. There are various reasons why higher salaries would improve the civil service in grade 17 and above. Less incentive for corruption, embezzlement and bribery; performance-based incentives would encourage officers to pursue higher performance targets; a competition among the officers would being out the most efficient and honest officers and encourage improvement in performance. Such a model is based on key performance indicators (KIPs) that created in a layered manner to cover performance targets of not just individual officer post but also departments, institutions and then ministries. Such a comprehensive performance system targets inefficiency from the ground roots.

2. Hire 400 instead of 200 to 250 each year in grade 17 and let go of 50 officers each time they move up one grade from 17 to 20. This would be similar to what the armed forces do but not quite as cutthroat. However, after grade 20 everyone should have security of tenure but no one should be guaranteed automatic promotion. Promotion and pay should still be based on performance. And of course there should be clear and transparent indicators against which performance should be measured. But, as is the case in the private sector, some discretion has to be given to officers' supervisors to set salaries.

3. Foster specialisation. Our elite bureaucrats are prepared to be well-rounded officers who can serve in multiple capacities. But by doing this we stretch people's capabilities. A bureaucrat of integrity and intelligence, might serve in senior positions in the ministries of education, interior, petroleum, and states and frontier regions. One cannot be expected to acquire expertise in all these diverse areas. It is better to form groups of similar ministries and then keep bureaucrats within those groups after they reach mid-level at grade 20, as they now also do in India. For instance, there can be an Economic Group that could include the ministries of finance, revenue, industries, and commerce. Another could be a Technical Group which could include ministries of planning, power, petroleum, communications, etc. Still another group could be the Welfare Group which could include education, health, human resources etc.

4. Induct outside industry professionals every year at grade levels 18 to 22. This would allow outside experts to enter the government and share their skills. And of ...

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