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Old Friday, December 17, 2010
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Default The decline of the civil service - Zafar Iqbal

This is a must read article for getting to know the history of civil service in Pakistan and how it was used by politicians for their vested interests through the course of our history.

The decline of the civil service

By Zafar Iqbal

MS Anjum Niaz’s column in Sunday’s Dawn Magazine of April 9, 2006, seems to have incensed Mr Rashid Akhtar of Lahore. As a former member of the civil service I was rather flattered with Mr Akhtar’s observation that “throughout the history of Pakistan, CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) officers have held sway over almost all the affairs of the country at different levels and positions.”

I wish we had been all that powerful. We might have had a better managed country today. The politicians, the army, the other government services such as the police, the customs, the income tax department etc. are, in Mr Akhtar’s opinion, of no account.

For one thing, the columnist was only talking about the Indian Civil Service. She was obviously kindly disposed towards it as both her father and father-in-law were in the service. From her latest column it appears that she is convinced that the CSP is dead. It is not. But it has been badly mauled by successive governments. The officers still occupy many of the top jobs but the quality of their output has deteriorated. The truth is that they do not really care any more.

The ICS came in three categories: In the first category there were the white men representing Whitehall; they ruled India. In the second category were the Indians who qualified on merit in the examination held in Delhi. In the third category were the quota positions, reserved for Muslims who had passed the examination but were not on the merit list. These were nominated to the ICS.

Pakistan inherited about 85 ICS officers at the time of independence — they largely came from the third category. Before 1947, the ICS comprised the ruling class under British domination. Things changed a bit with the implementation of the Government of India Act of 1935 but not much and not for very long. After 1947, this disappeared and the politicians took control.

Competitive exams for the ICS started around 1858. A merit Home Civil Service for Britain came into being with the Civil Service Act of 1871 and a combined examination was introduced. Before 1919, the people coming out on top tended to opt for the ICS, the others opting for the Home Civil Service. The Montague-Chelmsford reforms discouraged people from coming to India and the people at the top tended to opt, in increasing numbers, for the Home Civil Service. The 1935 Act indicated the coming exit of the British from India and nearly all the top people opted for Home Civil Service.

After 1947, Pandit Nehru retained the ICS now renamed the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) very much in its original form except that policy no longer originated in Whitehall but was decided by the Congress party in New Delhi.

In the beginning, much the same prevailed in Pakistan. We were, however, very short of officers and some lateral entrants were inducted into the CSP from the provincial services, some from the defence services and a few others, probably not more than 20 in all. The balance of the shortage was made up with something called the general administrative reserve plus officers from other services. The final set-up was, however, influenced by the ICS.

The first competition-wallahs for the CSP had appeared for the exam in Delhi in 1947 and after training came into service around 1949-1950. However, the most prominent bureaucrats in the early years were Mr Ghulam Mohammed, Chaudhry Mohammed Ali and Khan Qurban Ali Khan, none of whom were from the ICS. To these, one could perhaps add the names of G. Ahmed, Zahid Husain and M. Shoaib, again none of them from the ICS.

Women were ineligible for the civil service, foreign service or the police. There was another caveat that a candidate who got less than 50 per cent in the viva voce, no matter how well he did in the written exam, was ineligible for the civil and foreign service. All that happened was that those who did better in the CSS exam were considered of superior ability. Not absolutely true but not an entirely inappropriate generalisation. But the CSP, nevertheless, excited a degree of hostility. For instance, horse-riding was pilloried as making them elitist — a completely mistaken impression. The mostly middle-class young men had never encountered a horse before.

In Pakistan, there is a tendency among people to regard themselves as government servants and not public servants. This was true of the Indians in service when the British ruled India. After independence, attitudes changed in India, but with the dismissal of the Nazimuddin government, Pakistan’s nascent democracy was shaken to its roots fairly early. The rear-destruction of democracy in Pakistan was the result of a conspiracy between the governor general, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army. The army was inducted by Ghulam Mohammed to ensure the success of his political coup. It took over communication facilities to prevent Nazimuddin from making contact with anyone.

Thereafter, everyone became confirmed government servants. What is worse, they felt quite comfortable with this arrangement. This was further strengthened with the declaration of martial law in October 1958 when executive authority was concentrated in the hands of one man, without any checks and balances and, for all practical purposes, independent of public opinion. One of the requirements of the higher civil service is to advise without fear or favour. In order to protect this function they have to be provided protection from arbitrary action by political authority.

Amongst all the services it was the CSP which had most contact with the public; their behaviour was, therefore, important. Entry to the civil service had two components. The first was assured social esteem; the second, an opportunity to perform public service. Unfortunately, it was the first which seduced most of the entrants. Individuals varied in their attitudes but many of them, particularly in the districts, tended to behave like uncrowned monarchs — the greater their sycophancy towards their superiors the more their haughtiness towards the public.

Within the system the problems we face are ethnic prejudice, favouritism, nepotism, patronage and sycophancy. To some extent it is true of all societies, but for various reasons we have all of these in a virulent form. As a result, no nationally accepted version of competence has emerged. It is still substantially influenced by ethnic prejudice and sycophancy. There is, therefore, a great deal to be said for a structured system where the better ones at entry are given preference. In spite of all these problems, we, nevertheless, continued in a not unreasonable fashion, except for the 1965 war and the lunacy of the action in East Pakistan is March 1971, which eventually lead to the succession of Z.A. Bhutto as president and martial law administrator in December 1971.

His rule was a watershed in the government service structure of Pakistan. Theoretically, he levelled the playing field by bringing all the services at par. Their salaries were equalised and for one year they trained together, but thereafter went their separate ways. Since the establishment secretary also hated the CSP it was renamed the DMG (District Management Group). This did not matter all that much.

What did matter were Bhutto’s intentions. He had no interest whatsoever in the concept of “advice without fear or favour.” He simply wanted his desires to be implemented by the system; whatever they might be. He, therefore, changed the entire legal framework within which the services operated. Constitutional protection was withdrawn. The jurisdiction of the courts was replaced by an administrative tribunal under the establishment division.

The rules governing security of service were abolished, and any officer above the rank of joint secretary could be sent home without given a reason. As a matter of fact, it could happen to any officer at any level. This was further compounded by a complete free for all in the matter of promotions. Through this process Mr Bhutto achieved what he wanted. Respected senior officers were forced to become errand boys. I had no experience of this new culture because I was suspended from service in July 1972 for “arrogance, irreverence and impertinence.” Since I had committed no offence, except to annoy Mr Bhutto, nothing could be done, until the rules were changed and a new Constitution enacted. (My dismissal was announced in August 1973 but that is another story).

In the 1977 elections deputy commissioners competed with each other for getting the PPP the maximum number of seats from their respective jurisdictions. In Punjab, the PPP secured 94 per cent of the seats. Where the local administration did not fully cooperate as happened in the other provinces, the commissioners and provincial chief secretaries intervened, to achieve the desired results. Mr Bhutto won a landslide victory.

After 1970, all elections have been managed to obtain pre-arranged results. This is in stark contrast with our eastern neighbour where, in spite of a certain amount of murder and mayhem, elections are reasonably free and fair.

There are many societal and other differences between India and Pakistan. For one thing, the army has been kept out of politics, their higher judiciary is much more independent and their administrative machinery is more committed to political neutrality.

This stands in stark contrast to the slow degradation of the CSP into a group of rather intelligent sycophants.

When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk. ~ The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
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