The Civil Services Reforms in Balochistan
The Civil Services Reforms in Balochistan
Safiullah Shahwani

The Chief Minister Balochistan Mir Sarfaraz Bugti held a meeting with the Balochistan Civil Secretariat Officers’ Association the other day wherein it was revealed that as many as 60 reforms were approved in the civil services for improving governance in Balochistan.

However, media was not briefed over the nature and efficacy of these ‘reforms’, and also how these reforms would impact the governance in the province. Governance, undoubtedly, is really a major issue that needs immediate attention if anyone cares to improve the quality of life, eradicate poverty, improve literacy, education and healthcare service delivery in a province that has a chequered history of insurgency, mal-governance and intriguing power-play. Governance, in specific, in the financial arena needs the utmost attention of men of high integrity and high honesty at the helm which, in case of Balochistan, is an extreme rarity.

A single word, carrying ocean-deep meaning that could be offered as panacea to the complex economic, political, administrative and myriad other social issues of Balochistan, is merit. As long as the colonial exploitative machinery that only favours ones either close to the power corridors or have deep-roots in the power structure is eliminated altogether and replaced with a system based on meritocracy and discipline, nothing is going to change in Balochistan.

I may sound pessimistic here but, very unfortunately, ones who are the beneficiary of this exploitative system will never desire, deep down from the core of their hearts, to change the system for it grants them benefits beyond their capacities. They would, nevertheless, play Machiavellian tricks to offer a semblance of meritocracy to only legitimise their ill-gotten power, prestige and positions.

What is utterly paradoxical in Balochistan is that the people who talk about merit to create a smokescreen against reality are the ones who themselves have trampled the merit in the electoral saga that was staged at a cost of around Rs. 49 billion of the public money across the country.

The political culture of Pakistan in general and that of Balochistan in specific is ridden with such practices that promotes corruption, and rule by mediocre and in many cases below average. A cursory glance at the profiles of the members of Provincial Assembly during the past two decades will testify the claim.

The administrative fabric in the province is comprised of as many as around two hundred fifty thousand government employees in Balochistan which can generally be divided into line and staff agencies or departments, colloquially known as ‘attached departments’ and the secretariat employees.

Anyone with little know-how of public administration can understand the importance of line agencies or departments that have the responsibility of achieving specific goals of departments or materialise their mandate into action for the public good at grass-root level. In other words, these are the operational wings of any department without which no services could be administrated to the end-user—, say the masses, in case of Balochistan.

The staff agencies or departments only exist to provide specialized support to the line agencies and naturally the numerical strength of the line agencies exceeds that of the staff agencies anywhere in the world so does their perks and privileges to make working environment conducive for them to achieve their specialised goals.

But, in case of Balochistan, barring the numerical strength, everything is opposite the established practices of public administration. The staff departments/agencies in Balochistan make around 20 percent employees of governmental machinery while the line agencies constitute about 80 percent of the government employees. The latter have on their shoulders the responsibility to administer all sorts of services ranging from health, education, promotion of agriculture, forestry, wildlife protection and social security programmes. They former are only limited to secretarial roles. The line agency employees are deputed in the far-flung and remote corners of the province that makes half of Pakistan. This too without proper facilities of accommodation, electricity, and vehicles. Above all, they are allowed salaries that are less than 60 percent what the 20 percent minority of the staff agencies is taking in the province. This discrimination needs to end forthwith and the line departments have to be facilitated and given salaries, if not more than what staff departments take, then at least equal to them, so that they can serve with complete interest at their duty stations.

Secondly, the promotion criteria for the employees in both line and staff agencies is faulty to the core that encourages the incompetent, corrupt and undeserving employees to occupy higher positions on account of the length of their service rather than the skills required for higher grades. The system of promotions in both the agencies needs to be reviewed to promote meritocracy and get rid of the stumbling blocks who occupy higher positions due to faulty promotion systems in place.

The beneficiaries of this faulty promotion system are often disdainfully called ‘rankers’ and they have proved themselves the biggest hurdle in the way of development, efficient service delivery and disposing off the matters quickly. A written test of the skill sets, required for higher grades, must be introduced to allow any lower grade official or officer to qualify for higher positions purely on merit. It should not entitle anyone for any higher position by the length of his service in the department with zero skills which is the existing practice.

Additionally, the Finance Department, Planning and Development (P&D) Department and Accounts offices throughout the province where all the development and non-development government spending is planned and executed, need to be regulated and made accessible for public scrutiny under Right to Information Law recently in implementation phase in Balochistan. Currently, a system of percentage plagues the system where notwithstanding completion of all the codal formalities, percentages eat up considerable amount of public money and the desired goals fall short of achievement.

E-administration and digitising file tracking system can only be materialised when the system is ridden of the incompetent and computer illiterate lot that is occupying positions in all the line and staff agencies. A punishment for inordinate delay of files, useless red-tappism and online access to public of the movement of files would do wonders. Currently, the practice is dead slow, obscure and frustrating where a single leave application or a medical reimbursement case of an employee, sometimes, takes months to mature or at worst regretted after several months’ on grounds of non-sense objections.

Similarly, transparency in procurement processes for government departments is essential to enhance the public trust on government departments and their spending for public good. On many instances, certain tricks applied during the procedure of procurement of medicines, food, books, furniture, machinery, vehicles and other items, are of such intricate nature that even the educated cannot gain a full grasp thereof. A thorough public awareness campaign through social media is required to educate the masses that how much money is allocated for procurements in different departments and how the secretaries to the government and their subordinates are going to spend their money during a particular financial year.

Yet another area where merit needs to be adhered in letter and spirit is recruitment. All the government departments, except autonomous bodies and corporations, make recruitments of the employees of grade 1 to 15 internally while that of 16 and above through Balochistan Public Service Commission (BPSC). All those who have some leverage in the power structure of the departments, minister being at the tope and others in the descending order, use their fullest power to get their favourits appointed. Recently, sell of government jobs in the province has become a hot topic which the incumbent CM too has commented upon. This needs to be rationalized on merit to avoid inflicting life-long liabilities on public exchequer through undeserving candidates.

Although BPSC has a screening process that deserving candidates hope to undergo to acquire some decent jobs on merit yet due to some serious faults in the examination and screening process, experience has shown, such candidates have made it to the higher positions who lack the required caliber, skills and knowledge for their positions. The loopholes in the screening process of the BPSC need a thorough review for improving the scale of merit to the premium level.

Finally, the ministers, secretaries and other high-ups in the departments have to be restrained from asking for financial favours from the district heads. They should only be limited to monitoring the performance of the district heads and audit of their accounts. Currently it is a common observation that government vehicles purchased for field activities often end up in the personal use of ministers, secretaries and staff agency officers and as a result the field activities suffer.

Having said this, let me assure the readers nothing recommended in the foregoing paragraphs will happen because the current exploitative system that derives its inspiration from the colonial administrative system only knows making slaves of the masses and awarding beneficiaries who are complacent with the system.

The writer is a former member the staff at BE