Bureaucratic logjam

Mindset is failing us

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It has become a ritual of sorts. Every year thousands of candidates apply for the central superior services examinations, less than half of them appear, and only a fraction of them succeed. More often fewer than is the requirement that year. Only 3.3 per cent of candidates were able to pass the exam in the last four years while this year it was a mere 2.5 per cent.

This abysmally low rate of success may be attributed to the brighter students opting for the corporate sector jobs that are more rewarding these days. Yet it is equally reflective of our deplorable educational standards that cannot give us an annual crop of some 300 capable officers.

The reforms committee is working on revamping the whole selection process and there have been reports of the government’s intentions to introduce a pre-screening test before participants could appear for the CSS examination. Apparently the prime minister has given his nod and now the proposal shall be scrutinized by the parliament. The screening process is also set to split candidates into three groups -the Pakistan Administrative Service, Inland Revenue Service, and the International Relations group – judgeing them for their aptitude.

The civil service has long lost its charm. It is no longer an exclusive club of the babus that has control over the decision making and is answerable to none for their excesses. With proliferation of media and other avenues of work that value skill and ability and pay commensurate salaries, the bureaucrats are obliged to be answerable to the populace that pay for their salaries and perks. Looking at the existing standards of services in the government departments one could conclude that the CSS exam is stuck in the past and can no longer screen and select right people for the right job. All it has been doing over the decades was to select generalists that are neither here nor there whereas the demands in let’s say police investigations and white collar crimes and tax and customs have changed.

What happens is that once CSP probationers are selected the government spends additional resources and time on training them in various institutes whereas people outside of the pale of this system but who have already acquired those qualifications remain jobless.

The system needs a thorough review. The government needs to set its priorities right and see what type of skill-set does it require to deal with the emerging needs of governance. There is no harm if we look around in our region and see how others are faring in this regard.

While this is done, the disparities in the education system should be sorted out simultaneously.  This is not something that we came to know just now. It is with us for as long as we could remember. We know the impediments in the way of reforming the system. We know that it is an extremely difficult if not impossible task to do. Yet the politicians thinking it a fancy campaign slogan put it down on top of their manifesto. And this useless exercise goes on and on every five years or however the cycle of elections shapes up.

Critical thinking is what we have avoided all our lives as a society. And it is the same critical thinking that is needed to do away with the old ways. So let’s keep moving in circles.