Government to introduce civil service reforms at large, Ishrat Hussain

ISLAMABAD: Government’s top adviser on civil service reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain unveils the variety of changes being made in the country’s bureaucratic structures and systems from civil servants’ induction, recruitment, training, performance, promotion, compensation and retirement to institution building, devolution, accountability and service delivery.

Dr Hussain shared with media details of the Imran Khan government’s vision on civil service reforms to improve government’s performance for the progress and prosperity of the country and its people.

Salary raise to government servants will be given on the basis of performance, present pension system is being changed to defined contribution mechanism, CSS system is being overhauled, specialists or non-cadres officers are being given more opportunities to grow and serve better, more posts in grade 17 and above are being created, e-governance is being introduced to cut lower staff etc.

He said that the entire package of proposed civil service reforms is part of an integrated, interwoven value-chain of human resources policies, therefore it would be a mistake to examine each component as stand-alone without realising its inseparable linkages with other parts of the chain.

He said, “We are looking at how we can enhance the quality of human resource in the whole government. A weak link in the chain, if left to it-self, would not allow that qualitative change to take hold,” he said, explaining that the value chain starts with recruitment induction, and then it goes to training, performance management, career progression and promotion policy, compensation and benefits, and finally retirement.

“It must be emphasized that these reforms should be seen in the context of an empowered, devolved and fully resourced local government system as the delivery of public services takes place at the village and town level and not federal and provincial capitals. The new Local Government Acts approved by Punjab and KP assemblies would strengthen the local bodies whose heads would be directly elected by the people and operate with the assistance of the civil servants.”

He said, “We may bring about changes in recruitment system to attract the best talent but if they are not compensated well, have no clear career path and lack a transparent performance management system then it would be difficult to retain the brightest among them or to early retire non-performers.”

Similarly, he said, “We may increase compensation across the board without distinguishing between those who produce quality output and those who slack in their duties but it will end up in lowering motivation and morale, and the overall productivity would suffer resulting in poor service delivery to the public and impediments in the way of economic actors.”

“Under the present performance system it would be difficult to identify officers who have received unsatisfactory ACRs for three years and the purpose of early retirement would be defeated in actual practice. So, the new Performance Management System is the pre-requisite for the success of the early retirement rules. All elements are intricately linked and tinkering with one or two without making consequential changes in the others would bring no beneficial results. Thus simultaneous changes in all components are required.”

For recruitment, he said, the government is bringing in some element of domain knowledge at the time of the appearing in the civil services exam. So right now, you may be an English Literature graduate but because of the quota system and if you are from Punjab, you are not allocated a place in DMG or Foreign Service, and you end up in Audit and Accounts Service. As a result, your domain knowledge becomes absolutely incompatible with the job you are going to do. So either you are a frustrated person or you rely on your clerks and juniors. The government, therefore, is currently unable to make an optimal utilisation of these bright young men and women.

He added, “We have to move towards a blended approach in which the relative strengths of the generalists and specialists are optimally utilised. Therefore, at the time of induction, we create incentives for candidates to match their preferences with some prior domain knowledge. There would be no restrictions of any academic qualification to apply and appear at the Central Services examination. You may be a doctor or an engineer, but if you want a career in Foreign Service, you must appear at International Relations and International Law as optional papers. If you prefer to work in the Police Service, you must have chosen papers on Criminology and Civil & Criminal Procedural Codes as optional subjects. So that is the mapping the government is attempting to introduce.

Additionally, he said, they are proposing a screening test for CSS exam as right now it is very difficult to assess 16,000 scripts from the exam every year. So we should try to bring in MCQs which will help to eliminate a lot of people at the screening stage but respect the observance of regional/provincial and other quotas. As a result, the residual bunch of 2,000 people or so will go through a psychometric test modeled on the British Civil Service. After this round, the candidates will appear at compulsory and optional subjects’ written exams, and then the interviews.

Dr Hussain said that the second most important element of this value chain is the training. Right now, there is no differentiation in the products of training at various stages of civil service. The training is not linked to job requirements. The reforms will address that issue. But the biggest change is that we have to systematically train specialists as well as on generalists. Out of 29,000 federal government officers, only 6,000 are generalists or what we call cadre officers. The remaining 23,000 are non-cadre officers – there are engineers, doctors, accountants, financial analysts and others among them. They don’t have either any prescribed training or any career path. They are frustrated and demotivated and therefore they are not contributing much. They are sulking because despite having their degrees from some of the best universities in the world and in Pakistan, they haven’t been promoted for 12 years from grade 18 to grade-19.

“We are trying to bring them into the mainstream and eliminate this artificial barrier between the superior services and other services. Have we ever thought for a moment as to why there is so much corruption in PWD, Irrigation, Customs, Revenue, Development Authorities such as CDA and LDA, lower Police etc? As they don’t find any prospects for future career progression they use their enormous discretionary powers for enriching themselves and buying influence to protect themselves. Despite NAB, FIA and Anti Corruption agencies it is generally perceived that the level of corruption today in these departments is much higher than three decades ago. It has also permeated in Education, Health and AG offices too,” he said.

He disclosed that the cabinet has already approved the plan to have post-induction training for all the specialists and then in-service training at grades 18, 19 and 20. So there will be an equality of opportunity for both the generalists and the specialists. And this discrimination that exists today and has led to a lot of heartburn will be removed and we would be able to utilise their services effectively.

He said, “We have mega projects and engineers have never had any chance to refresh their knowledge or learn new tools. The government is spending a lot of money on highly paid consultants from outside and we cannot even judge whether the work of the consultants is up to the quality. According to the PM Inspection Commission, the cost overruns on development projects are 150 percent higher than the original estimated costs. So, we will create a cadre of specialists who will be exposed to training, up-gradation of their skills over time and defined career paths with results based monetary rewards so that we can do a better job in project screening, project appraisal, and project evaluation. That training scheme for the non-cadre and ex-cadre officers has already been approved by the cabinet and now it is being implemented.

Hussain added that the government is also making changes to ‘performance management,’ which is the third area of intervention and has been approved by the cabinet. Today we follow the colonial system of ‘annual confidential report’ that provides no substantive evidence of performance on the job or future potential. So, we are replacing these subjective evaluation reports by an objectives-based, KPI-driven evaluation, which a subordinate can discuss with his or her superior officer. Both of them will sign the KPIs that are to be achieved during the year. Only 20 percent in the cohort will be categorised as outstanding, 60 percent as satisfactory, and 20 percent as below average. Performance will also be related to promotion, so that the officer’s training outcomes and placement in the promotion ladder will be determined by his or her performance. So, there is an incentive for the officer to work hard because he or she wants to get promoted to the next grade. This categorisation would also feed in early retirement policy. If an officer has not consistently performed satisfactorily and keeps falling in 20 percent or below average then his/her case would be placed before the committee for early retirement.

He said there is a lot of criticism against the promotion policy that has been notified as it is alleged to reward those “in good books of the government and penalise those in bad books”. He said the Selection Board consists of 14 senior most officers drawn from different services, provinces, backgrounds and they are given a standard assessment sheet for marking 10 pre-defined attributes. It is the average of all the independent but structured assessments made by the Board members, which determine the final marks out of 30 marks at the disposal of the board. The discretionary element is minimised and biases are nullified in this process and that is the beauty of large group collective judgment compared to the sole discretion of an individual or 3 to 4 individuals making the decision. The ACRs are given lower weight at present because by and large they are highly non differentiated and skewed in favour of outstanding and excellent categories. Once the new Performance Management system becomes fully operational, the relative weight of performance reports would be raised.

According to the Adviser, “The other thing that we are looking to change is the practice where a 15 percent across-the-board annual increment is given whether an officer has performed or not. We are going to give a 20-25 percent raise to the people who are in the outstanding category, 10 percent to 15 percent increment to those in the satisfactory category, and no increment to those who are below average. We want to give a signal that the officers need to improve. In performance management, we are also giving attention to officer’s personal development and linking it to training objectives. For instance, if an officer feels that he or she needs training to improve writing or presentation skills, it will be the job of the supervisor to provide adequate training in that particular field.”

He said, “The fourth area of our value-chain approach deals with the career path. Today, you may be a Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and tomorrow you may become a Joint Secretary of Industries Ministry. Now, how you can actually contribute to that position because you don’t have any prior background. To tackle this issue, we are following the clustering model. At grade 19, you may be a medical doctor or an engineer or an agriculture researcher or a PAS officer or a PSP, but at this stage we will try to sort people out into clusters. So some people will remain only in the financial and economic ministries’ cluster; some may remain in the social sectors’ cluster; some in the technical ministries; and some in the general administrative cadre.”

According to Hussain, the idea is to have an officer’s performance and career path tailor-made so that if he or she has the inclination and the capacity to go to the economic ministries, then we will train him or her in that path. Hence, after grade 19, you will specialise in that area. So, the clustering will promote a plank between a generalist and a specialist. Both the theory and the empirical evidence show that you need a generalist at the leadership position who synthesises the various strands of expert ‘ knowledge to make cogent and coherent decision. So you may be a very good engineer and you may have a very beautiful design for a bridge, but your chief financial officer says that the cost is so much that it outweighs the benefits. “So, as a Secretary, I will listen to the engineer as well as the finance person and make a decision whether this is really a viable solution to the problem.”

“We are doing that for specialist cadres. We have introduced technical advisers to assist each minister directly. Fifteen ministries have been chosen for that. The technical advisers will be picked from the market. They will be employed on a contract basis,” he said.

“We are doing that for specialist cadres. We have introduced technical advisers to assist each minister directly. Fifteen ministries have been chosen for that. The technical advisers will be picked from the market. They will be employed on a contract basis,” he said.

Additionally, he said, “We are trying to create more positions from grade 17 all the way to grade 22. Even today, at grade 22 salaries, you cannot get people who are specialists in their fields to work for the government. We don’t want to get rid of anybody, but through the process of attrition we will not replace the people who are retiring or resigning in the lower grades. In the process, we will use the savings to push up the salaries to reward performance. This experiment has been successfully implemented in the State Bank of Pakistan for last 15 years where an entry-level officer receives salary comparable to that in the MNCs.

And finally, he said, “We have the regular retirement policy in addition to the early retirement policy, which has been notified. Pension, he said, is a bomb that is going to explode in the future, because our pension bill is just going up and up every year. In fact, our pension bill is now more than our salary bill. We want to go the defined-contribution mechanism, as identified after actuarial analyses during my time as the Chairman of Pay and Pension Commission in 2010-11. The government has appointed a Pay and Pension Commission, which would present recommendations for pension reform moving away from pay as you go to Defined Contribution and creating a Pension Fund. This would not only save the government from future fiscal burden but also help in deepening the capital markets in Pakistan.

He said that these reforms would take a long time to reach the culmination point and would pose a lot of challenges on the way. “There would be resistance from those who are benefitting from the status quo and their entitlements and perks without much effort. There would be losers who would not be promoted nor given annual increments and those who would be given early retirement. They would approach the politicians, media and challenges in the courts for violation of their fundamental rights. There would be delays, set backs and temporary reversals. We would travel not on a linear straight path free of pebbles, stones and boulders but zig zag unknown alleys and therefore the expectations for quick, successful results should be tampered with a sense of realism,” he said. (courtesy The News Islamabad)