Civil Services Is No Longer An Alluring Career for Pakistanis

Posted on June 29, 2008
Filed Under >Raza Rumi, Education, Society
Total Views: 109050

Raza Rumi

A little news item that appeared a few weeks ago was ignored by our all-knowing analysts and TV channels. Reportedly, the Federal Public Service Commission failed to recruit all the vacancies that were advertised for the CSS competitive examination held in 2007. Out of 290 available posts, the number of successful candidates in the 2007 CSS competition was merely 190, leaving almost 100 vacancies unoccupied.

Pakistan CSS Civil Service

In the photo above Founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah is seen talking to Pakistani Civil Servants (circa 1947)

Last year, too, the government could not get enough number of successful CSS candidates to fill in the available posts and 47 vacancies could not be filled. Such instances have occurred before but given the state of unemployment this is, to put it mildly, shocking.

The truth of the matter is that entering the civil service is no longer an alluring career option for the talented young men and women of this country. Perhaps, the greatest damage to the attractiveness of the civil service came in the wake of the devolution plan that rendered the most coveted service group — District Management Group — unpalatable. Within days, the district administrators had no prescribed career-paths and that they had to be subservient to small time political cronies of the central political elites.

But this would be too simplistic an explanation. The last decade has also witnessed Pakistan’s fitful integration into the global economy resulting in expansion of private sector opportunities with higher salaries. The remuneration of a new entrant into the civil service is three times less than what a telecom company would pay to its junior employee. With money as a new god in the age of globalisation, choosing a dysfunctional civil service would make little sense.

The almost sinister destruction of the DMG and the centuries old office of the district magistrate or its historical predecessor, the mansabdar, was ahistorical and reflected the petty tensions within the Executive where the rival services viewed the DMG as an unfairly privileged elite service. The martial mind viewed the DMG as an alternative power centre that needed to be neutralised for effective capture of civilian institutions.

Today all the major civil service training academies are headed by former army men; and most poignantly the civil service reform unit in Islamabad is headed by a general as well.

It is ironical that opportunities for rent seeking have multiplied under the newly devolved structures. The District Coordination Officer, the new avatar for the erstwhile Deputy Commissioner, and his staff have a wider menu of commissions and kickbacks along with the political honchos, thereby defying the faint possibility of electoral accountability. The testimony of this comes from none else than former Chief Minister Punjab. It is therefore not the lack of ‘extra’ income that has made DMG unattractive. It is the loss of the unique service culture where the DC and his team functioned as relatively neutral state agents, mediated between the citizens and the state; and could potentially resist political influence.

From the citizens’ perspective, two immediate after-shocks haunted the local governance patterns. First, the reconfiguring of the ‘system’ led to an unbridled and unchecked police force interacting directly with citizens with remote, little supervision. Second, the absolute collapse of local citizen interest regulation, which evolved over 150 years of governing experience. There are two to three hundred local and special laws, ranging from price control to natural resource management (water, irrigation and land) and from public health (adulteration, hygiene etc.) to environmental protection (forest, wildlife, pollution etc.). This is not to say that prior to 1999 the police was supervised effectively by the district magistrate or local regulation was optimal or efficient. In fact, decades of politicisation of civil service had resulted in ugly distortions of the so-called ‘system.’

If the old system was not delivering or a colonial relic there were other ways to handle it than to throw out the sick baby with the bath water and usher in multiple patronage seekers and distributors. After all, civilian administrations in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and in many other countries continue with local adaptation and contextualisation. Why could we not learn from our much-feared neighbour especially the way its organic growth of local institutions blends grassroots democracy with a Raj administrative steel-frame?

Whilst these systemic tremors were felt by the citizens in whose name a reform was imposed from the top, the provinces felt completely bypassed thus reincarnating the old demons of troubled federalism. Services such as health, education were meant to improve. Whilst the budgetary allocations went up, the results were nowhere to be seen as the provincial secretariats appropriated more powers and local rent-seeking replaced the earlier patterns of malfeasance.

The much touted system of police accountability through the public safety commissions was a still-born concept. It never took off at the local level as the nominees to these institutions were selected along party and patronage lines thereby eroding the capability of these bodies. Where this Commission showed some teeth, its members were the first ones to bear the brunt of police excess. The naivete of appointing the provincial police officers through a panel, desirable as it is, and ensuring that he (indeed they are all men) completes his tenure foundered at the rocks of provincial politics.

The lure of raw power was reflected in the group allocation preferences that the CSS candidates indicated from 2000 onwards. Joining the Police became the top priority of those who appeared in the competitive examination followed by Customs and Income Tax. It was the Customs group that for some time became the prized service under General Zia ul Haq when the society ought to have become more spiritual in the face of a heavy dose of dubious ‘Islamisation.’ Alas, the monetisation of 1980s; and the brutalisation of ‘governing’ have been the direct results of these authoritarian spells.

Things have come to such a pass that there aren’t enough qualified candidates, in a country of 170 million, to fill in the entry-posts. If on one hand, this trend betrays the decline of institutions, on the other it spells doom for the future of Pakistan’s governance. There can be no compromise on a capable civil service to manage and implement policies. Yes, the private sector is more attractive and perhaps is always so, what about state’s regulatory and redistributive functions? The goal of a capable state cannot be compromised nor ignored.

There is no alternative to increasing the salaries of the civil servants and making the promotion policy and work-environment more attractive. Otherwise, it is a dangerous trend that has already set in. However, it is nor irreversible.

The political parties are now calling for a revision of the devolution system and the monstrous possibility of another disruption looms large. Another ‘revolution’ will further lead to systemic jolts and ensue painful period of transition that might fuel the current climate of instability. There needs to be a two-pronged strategy: implement civil service reforms at the central level and fix the gaps of the local government systems with attention to the way provincial governments set policy and supervise local bodies. The solutions are well known to all and sundry and there is no need for another Commission or a white elephant body to carry the changes through.

If only the political parties (and corporate media) would halt posturing, stop targeting or extolling individuals and focus on institutions. The prospects of this happening are remote but this is a fast changing Pakistan. The moment is now, or perhaps, never.

Raza also edits Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama

References and Credits:

1. A version of this post also appeared at the Daily News of June 29, 2008.
2. Title Photo is courtesy of Doctor Ghulam Nabi Kazi
3. The Group Photo is courtesy of Commer28th at
4. Civil Services of Pakistan

19 responses to “Civil Services Is No Longer An Alluring Career for Pakistanis”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    The successor to ICS, is the CSP and is predecessor of DMG. ZAB’s reforms of 1973 reorganized some aspects, but much was left intact.

    Historically, these group of officers have filled more assignments than their fair share or scope. Most of the civil positions that are provincial subjects and therefore have always been part of the Provincial Civil Service officers were filled by the CSP (now DMG).

    Worse, most of the top positions wind up with retired military officers making matters worse for the provincial subjects and promotions within the provincial services.

    The top-down trend continues. Villages of all the Mai Jori Jamalis of Pakistan do not get any allocation of resources because there is no one from the local areas pleading their cases. And if the DMG officers, generally from larger cities, get the best allocation of resources, how could they even relate to the plight of Mai Jori Jamali?

    If there is one group of people who can be directly traced to the breakup of Pakistan, it is the CSP. Upon appointment to East Pakistan, they would go there and insult the Bengali brothers by talking down to them; in Urdu.

    The rest is history and commentary.

  2. Watan Aziz says:

    It is the loss of the unique service culture where the DC and his team functioned as relatively neutral state agents, mediated between the citizens and the state; and could potentially resist political influence.



    Take me to Disney Land!

  3. Ahmad R. Shahid says:

    True we need good people in each and every domain but there must also be jobs for those people. If people start learning creative arts or writing or whatever, and at the end of the day there are no jobs for them, that would only lead to more frustration and lesser stable society. So what professions people adopt should and always indeed depends on what they think would help them make a good living. If the government is ready to pay the civil servants what they deserve, people would start adopting it as a career, otherwise not. And there indeed is demand for skills imparted to a civil servant, he/she would have to be paid accordingly.

  4. faisal says:

    @Eidee Man
    “No, I did not. The groups you mention are not part of government in any significant number. I was obviously referring to political people who work over the civil servants.”

    Yes you are right they are not part of the Govt., in fact, they are the Govt. in their areas and that makes them better than MQM?

    “Also, perhaps you should consider why so many people are indeed speaking out against the MQM; I don

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *