Within the broader context of administrative reforms, civil service reform has been a key area in the evolution of public administration and governance all over the world. As the backbone of public administration, the civil service in South Asia is a legacy carried forward from the British colonial rulers. The inherited Indian Civil Service of the colonial era formed the basis of civil services in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. A comparative study of the evolution of reforms in the civil services of the major sub-continental countries, viz. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan may, therefore, be a pointer to the successes or failures of governance in these South Asian countries.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The practice and concept of governance and public administration in South Asia have strong historical basis. From the time of Kautilya (also known as Chanakya), who was the chief minister to Chandragupta (321-296 BC), the founder of the Mauryan empire in India, to the Mughal empire, the British Raj and the independence of the subcontinent from British colonial rule, public administration have had different organisational forms and functions, administrative structures, power and authority relationships as well as political systems. After independence of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the inherited Indian Civil Service (ICS) became the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in India, the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) in Pakistan, and subsequently the Bangladesh Civil Service (Administration) following Bangladesh's independence in 1971.
INDIAN CONTEXT: The services inherited from the British were retained in pursuance of the Indian Independence Act of 1947 and the Indian Civil Service (ICS) was replaced by the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Several reform initiatives in the civil service were undertaken by independent India, some through former civil servants, others initiated by the Lok Sabha, and a few as per recommendations of international experts. Up to 1966, the attempts at civil service reforms were limited in scope, sporadic, uncoordinated, largely diffused, and of uneven pace. There was no comprehensive and coordinated examination of the total administrative machinery in this effort (Hanumanthaiya, 1970).
In 1966, the Government of India announced the appointment of Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) that was modelled after the Hoover Commission of the United States. Notably, it was not created by parliament, rather it was a body appointed by the executive. The domination of the commission by politicians was considered to be an asset, as that was supposed to facilitate the passage of the commission's recommendations in parliament. Some recommendations of the commission were allegedly inspired by the Fulton Commission report of England published in 1968.
The ARC took four years to examine the administrative structures and processes, and presented 20 reports with 680 recommendations (based on the outputs of 33 study teams and working groups). Some perennial issues like generalists versus specialists, parity of scales and the superiority of IAS had plagued and dogged the ARC throughout its existence (Tummala, 2013). The notion in circulation was that the IAS and other generalists were the only ones fit for administrative jobs. The specialists/technocrats contested this privileged status of the IAS and claimed that they were equally capable of administrative and leadership positions at the top. The ARC made recommendations for functional classification of civil servants as well as for filling up senior management positions in specialist agencies by the specialists. Scopes for lateral entries were also suggested as opposed to a closed system. But as opposed to ARC recommendations, the subsequent Third Pay Commission tilted towards the time-honoured generalist administrators and disagreed with the arguments for parity of scales. Therefore, despite the laborious work done by the ARC and its 33 study teams-cum-working groups, the administrative structure in India remained as it had been before.
In the backdrop of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1990 led by the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, the nature of administrative work in India started to change as the private sector wielded more influence and power in the country's socio-economic growth. Therefore, in line with this changed state philosophy, the second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) was constituted on August 31, 2005. This commission presented 15 reports until 2009. To consider the recommendations and review the pace of implementation of reform, a Group of Ministers (GoM) was then constituted (GOI, 2004). But nothing substantive has materialised out of all these efforts until today.
PAKISTAN CONTEXT: Administrative and civil service reform efforts in Pakistan between 1947 and 1977 were guided by the development administration model (Jadoon & Jabeen, 2013). Several reports were submitted by various administrative reform commissions from 1947 to 1972, the main thrust of which continued to be civil service reform. None of these recommendations for structural changes were, however, implemented with the exception of some procedural changes, setting up of training institutions and creation of some state enterprises. Moreover, there had been around 20 studies on administrative reform in Pakistan over the period 1947 to 2012, where many problems had been identified, but very limited efforts were made for their implementation.
After Pakistan's emergence following the partition of India in 1947, a reorganisation committee headed by Sir Victor Turner was instituted for examining the procedures of government. Likewise, a pay commission was established under the chairmanship of Justice Muhammad Munir to prepare recommendations on the salary of civil servants. Rowland Egger and Bernard Gladieux were invited in 1953 and 1955 respectively to submit opinion on improving the public administration system in Pakistan. Then in 1958, a report on reorganisation of the federal government was presented by G. Ahmad. The 1962 Cornelius Report dwelt on issues related to the services, structure and organisation of the provincial and federal governments. After the promulgation of a new constitution in 1962, another report on the reorganisation of functions and structures of federal government was submitted by M. Shoaib. General Yahya Khan appointed a working group in 1970 for drafting a report on reorganising the public service structure in Pakistan.
Major and sweeping administrative reforms were initiated by the Bhutto government in 1973. It resulted in abolition of key reserved posts in federal and provincial governments for the CSP cadre, and replacement of the CSP cadre by the DMG (Distric Magistrate Group) and Secretariat groups in ways that represented all occupational groups. The reforms also introduced a unified service structure for all occupational groups and a unified national pay-scale of grades 1-22. A Civil Service Commission was constituted in 1978 to revisit the 1973 reforms. Another Service Reforms Commission was set up in 1989, but the recommendations of that commission were not implemented. An Economy Commission was set up in 1991, which recommended decreasing the number of divisions in the federal government and abolishing 75 organisations. The Chattah Commission re-emphasised the necessity of reducing the number of divisions in the federal government. Another Commission on Administrative Restructuring was constituted in 1997, but its recommendations could not be considered following the dismissal of the Nazwaz Sharif government in 1999. The National Reconstruction Bureau prepared a Devolution Plan in 2000; it included the Local Government Ordinance of 2001 and the police reforms, which were incorporated in the Police Ordinance of 2002.
The National Commission for Government Reforms (NCGR) was appointed in 2006 that focused on the effective functions of a holistic government. The NCGR submitted a complete report on civil service reforms that included: (1) open and transparent merit-based recruitment, performance-based promotions, and career progression for all public sector employees, with mandatory training at initial, mid-career and senior management levels; and (2) equal opportunities for career development of all employees irrespective of gender or other variations. The report also suggested replacing the concept of superior services, introducing equality among all cadre and non-cadre public servants, granting a living compensation package including decent retirement benefits and strict adherence to security of tenure. The recommendations also included a separate cadre of regular civil services at the federal, provincial and district levels and creation of a Pakistan National Executive Service (NES) for senior management positions drawn through a competitive process involving the civil servants as well as professionals from other sectors. It also recommended introduction of three specialised cadres under the NES for economic management, social sector management and general management for effective implementation of reforms. However, little has come out of these recommendations until today.
Political instability, political interference and dearth of planning and strategy have been identified as roadblocks to civil service reforms in Pakistan (Jabeen & Jadoon, 2013). Historically, no reform report presented by any commission could be implemented as the governments changed within a short period. The unwillingness of the executive branch to implement the reforms effectively has been the main area of concern (Wilder, 2009). Subservience of the civil service to military rulers has also been a dilemma that made the military support the civil service (Hussain, 2008). It has been observed that civil servants themselves resisted the implementation of reforms when they perceived an uncertainty factor or greater degree of potential for loss of privilege. It has also been observed that reforms have often failed in Pakistan when they were associated with external organisations, based on borrowed ideas, or imposed by international lending authorities like the IMF and the World Bank, without adapting those to the indigenous context (Iqbal, 2006).
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary in charge of reform, research and law wing at the Ministry of Public Administration; he is currently a freelance writer-cum-translator.