On September 22, Prime Minister Imran Khan signed an agreement with all the federal ministers to evaluate the performance of the ministries assigned to him. Dozens of officers have been issued show cause notices for poor performance and such officers may face forced retirement if they do not respond satisfactorily.
The government is taking this step in the light of amendments to the Civil Servants Rules, which were passed last year.
Performance testing of federal ministries has previously been conducted on a limited scale in 2019 and 2020 on a trial basis.
Under the agreement, all divisions of the federal government have been given two-year measures.
Of these, 426 steps are to be completed by June 2022, 488 steps by June 2023 and the remaining 176 steps in more than two years.
Officials say the measures will be reviewed on a quarterly basis to determine which ministries have performed better and which have performed worse.
In addition, more than 1,300 reforms, policy changes, development and administrative measures are to be initiated in all ministries.
Officials added that the performance agreement would also make it easier for the government to keep a track record of its performance, which is part of the country's civil service reforms. The aim is to improve the performance of federal government agencies and ministries.
Pakistan ranks lower in governance
Efforts have been made for the last several years to implement reforms in government institutions in Pakistan and to bring in policies at various levels.
Abdul Wajid Rana, former Secretary Finance and a member of the Federal Public Service Commission, wrote in his 2019 research paper 'Civil Services Reforms in Pakistan' that according to 2018 data, Pakistan is emerging as one of the world's leading governance indicators. It has been at the bottom of the list of economies, such as Turkey, South Korea, Indonesia, India, China and Bangladesh, and the most important thing to improve governance is a competent and professional beaver.
He further said that unlike other countries in the world, the process of bureaucratic reform in Pakistan has been delayed even though the National Commission for Government Reforms was set up here in 2006.
He said in his article that imbalances of power, over-centralized bureaucracy and weak democratic institutions were the main reasons for this. This was followed by the performance of state duties by some non-state actors, over-recruitment of unskilled and unskilled workers, colonial laws, political interference, lack of transparency, weak accountability system and resistance to reform and change. The reasons have been stated.
'The need is not just to introduce reforms but to implement them'
Tasneem Noorani, a former Home Secretary and Federal Secretary of Commerce who retired in the country's highest civil service in Grade 22, said the introduction of a system of bureaucratic reform by the government was a good move.
In his view, if there is a clean and reliable system in which there is no room for recommendation, it would be better if such a system is developed. But the real problem, he said, is that such a system has not yet emerged in the bureaucracy.
Citing an example, he said that while progress in the army depends entirely on their better record and performance, such traditions have not yet been established in the bureaucracy.
He hoped that the new system would bring a better system to the bureaucracy under the government, but its success would depend on how well it is implemented.
Officers need a better stress-free environment
Tasneem Noorani says governance is very difficult to measure. Because governance is a combination of many things.
He said that in his time, the feedback of senior officers and public feedback about an officer was of great importance. But even if ministries are given specific targets, there is no problem.
He also lauded the Prime Minister's Complaints Portal system, saying that it was benefiting in some way. Because it definitely puts pressure on the government official to resolve the complaint. But even then, the bureaucracy must not act on a threat, but on a spirit. Do it for your success. If that environment is not given, it may improve for a while, but it cannot be expected to improve in the long run.
Tasneem Noorani agrees that sometimes the bureaucracy itself becomes an obstacle in the implementation of such reforms and resists when they know that it will put more burden on them or make them harder. But the scale must be such that the work of ordinary people does not stop. They should be facilitated and citizens should be told the direction in which they can solve a particular problem.
He said that in the same way it has to be seen whether the government official has been given the required power to solve the problem or not. Or is it that the power given to solve problems is being held by MNAs, MPAs or anyone else instead?
He says reform of the bureaucracy is a very complex and difficult step. If they try to find a simple solution, they make headlines. In fact, these reforms can only be fruitful if ordinary citizens say they are benefiting from them.
'Revolutionary changes are being made in the bureaucracy'
Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Advisor to the outgoing Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, says that institutional reforms have taken care of how to make these institutions functional, to improve their financial performance. Improvements are being made to improve.
He said that for the first time such a structure has been made that the objectives, targets of each ministry, what will be their prominent performance indicators, then they will be reviewed on a quarterly basis. At the end of the year, the prime minister will review the goals and performance of his ministry with each minister.
He said that if someone was doing a good job in the bureaucracy and someone was performing poorly then there was no difference between the two but now this system is being abolished.
He said that only those cases would be considered during the development period if their performance was very good or their performance would be satisfactory. There will be 40% marks for performance, 30% marks for training and 30 marks for selection board.
He said that seniority is not the right of a civil servant.
He claimed that this system of reforms would be very revolutionary which would improve the performance of the institutions.
Under these reforms, the number of federal agencies has been reduced from 441 to 307. This will increase the efficiency of the institutions while controlling the expenditure.
Experts say the results of these reforms will not be seen in a few months or years, but after many years.
On the other hand, according to Abdul Wajid Rana, reforms in the civil bureaucracy should be implemented in a holistic but time frame instead of immediate changes. Its scope should be extended to all three levels – federal, provincial and local.