October 2, 2006
Promotion of civil servants
By Afzal A Shigri
The first formal law book in the India-Pakistan subcontinent, Castra, was a complete code encompassing all aspects of the legal system, including administrative structure. It was written in the fifth century. While dealing with the conduct of government officials in a typical mediaeval mindset, it considered all these men to be “knaves (who) must be spied upon continually through the agency of a general superintendent in every town. (The superintendent) shall scrutinise the conduct of all the governing lords (government officials).” The Sultans of Delhi and later the Moguls also put in place a system of spying on government functionaries and the affairs of state were run on the basis of these reports. The British adopted the existing system that had served the earlier rulers well. Initially they also heavily relied on secret reporting on the conduct of the functionaries of the Company. After the 1857 war of independence they restructured the services and laid down detailed rules and procedures for the governance of India, the most important colony of the empire. On independence, India and Pakistan inherited a well-developed service structure that filled the vacuum after the departure of the British for running the state.
Pakistan produced some outstanding civil servants who made major contributions for the creation of a viable and functional government structures in the country. The management of these civil servants that included their placement, promotions, training and discipline became the lynchpin of governance as anyone in charge of the subject also controlled the bureaucracy that exercised executive powers on behalf of the government in power. The Establishment Division that dealt with the subject therefore mostly remained under the Chief Executive of the country. The civil servants by and large served the country with dedication and followed the rules that acted as a check on whimsical or politically motivated decisions. This was possible as they enjoyed constitutional guarantees in service matters.
Constitutional guarantees protecting the rights of the civil servants were done away with in the 1973 Constitution and the bureaucracy was projected as a legacy of the foreign rulers and an irritant that had to be tamed. Services were abolished and the concept of lateral entry at all levels was introduced and new service groups were formed. The experiment unfortunately degenerated into one of political patronage where persons from outside the regular service cadre or within the cadre were appointed to senior positions because of political consideration. There were also cases of victimisation of officers who refused to carry out illegal orders and out-of-turn promotions through lateral entry of pliant officers became the norm with an extremely negative impact on the morale of civil servants.
During the martial law in the early eighties, the bureaucracy was able to re-emerge as a strong player and personnel management of the civil servants went through a major transformation and was again re-established on sound footings with well-defined parameters of rules and procedures. Syed Ijlal Hyder Zaidi, an outstanding civil servant, meticulously recrafted the service structure and was also successful in stopping the flooding of services by officers from the armed forces by regulating their induction and limiting their numbers in a given period. He introduced long-term reforms in training, career planning and progression of the officers, and benefited from the experience of the army that in the politically insulated environment had been able to introduce a modern and transparent management concept in their organisations. The promotion policy was redesigned and the quantification of annual appraisal reports was introduced for the guidance of the members of the selection boards for promotion. The promotion of the officers to the senior levels (i.e., grade 19 and above) was done on the recommendations of the central selection board I and the central selection board II (CSB-I and CSB-II).
Members of these boards were senior federal secretaries who represented all the provinces. Recommendations were based on the annual confidential reports that had been recorded by various officers on the performance of the officers over a long period of time. Variety of experience and a mandatory training report of NIPAs, PSC and NDC was given due consideration. Quantification of the report was never the sole criterion for promotions. Members of the board were required to apply their minds and they gave their recommendations after a comparative assessment of each officer. The secretary establishment played a key role in steering the proceedings. He gave his input not only on each officer but also ensured that the critical issue of the representation of the provinces was guaranteed in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy.
The system worked smoothly and officers knew that their genuine interests were watched and that the appraisal reports on their performance for a long period by various officers was the only criterion for their promotion. It was a transparent and fair system. No reports were obtained from any intelligence agency for the officers’ promotions. If there was a report in an odd case it was dealt with separately and the officer concerned was given an opportunity to explain his position before any proceedings were initiated against him or her.
The system so meticulously reconstructed was however put to the test of political pressures during the governments that followed that of General Zia. But mercifully the fundamentals were not touched and we had a fairly good working system. As part of the overall reform of the government, General Pervez Musharaf took steps to strengthen the role of the Federal Public Service Commission in appointments and promotions. It was a welcome change and one expected an improved transparent and credible arrangement. But a political government was put in place before the changes introduced to strengthen the FPSC could take roots.
The successive Prime Ministers considered the check by the FPSC a nuisance and decided many cases of re-employments and promotions against the advice of the commission. Instead of objecting to these irregular orders, the establishment division, the custodian of the rights of the civil servants, blindly justified them by relying on the flawed interpretation of the discretionary powers of the prime minister. Because of this passive approach, the establishment division lost its relevance and has been relegated to a mere post office that is only a channel of communication without any role in checking irregularities by the executive. It has miserably failed to protect the rights of the civil servants.
The establishment division is party to the recently introduced pernicious decision of intelligence reports for promotion of officers to senior levels. It has surprisingly agreed to allow years of appraisal reports by senior officers to be overruled by intelligence reports prepared in haste and based on ground checks by the agencies’ junior functionaries. This is an unfortunate arrangement that has undermined the credibility of the whole process of promotions. There are cases where these reports on re-verification were found to be inaccurate. In the last meeting of the board, officers with excellent records were ignored on the basis of intelligence reports. In many cases these were highly exaggerated or totally unfounded. One cannot blame the intelligence agencies, because they have no mechanism to monitor an officer for twenty or thirty years and have to rely on their limited field staff who may pick up the information at times from a source hostile to the officer concerned. There is no place for such ground checks when we have a formal system of annual appraisal reports.
However, if we have not grown out of a medieval attitude and consider all civil servants “knaves” and deem intelligence reports necessary, we should at least ensure that no one is condemned without being heard. This exercise could be undertaken for all officers who are due for promotion after two years. In case of any adverse assessment they could be asked to give their explanation and an enquiry could be initiated if the explanation was found unsatisfactory. If the charges are established then disciplinary action must follow. Denying promotions to officers on unsubstantiated reports is not only unjust but has also resulted in low morale and frustration amongst the civil servants at senior levels.
It is also imperative that the most important division of the government is headed by an officer with vision who asserts himself to protect the genuine rights of the civil servants, instead of only justifying irregular orders of the prime minister on the dubious concept of discretionary powers. When we talk of transparency and rule of law there is no such thing as discretionary powers, which is essentially a mediaeval concept, just as the “divine right of the king” is a thing of past. We are in the twenty-first century and it is time to change this mindset.
The writer is a former IG police. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org