Muddled civil service of Pakistan

ByRameez Ansari

An entrepreneur


August 29, 2022

Muddled civil service

Rameez Ansari describes the prevailing confusion Muddled civil service

The current spate of Muddled civil service & political upheaval is in a way reflecting the enormous gap of perceptions between people and the official machinery of the state. Government today is a large-scale administrative job requiring experts to operate it. It is also becoming manifest that unless the electorate is given the opportunity to change the key experts as well as the politicians, elections will lose much of their significance and the governments coming thereof will face reduced powers to manage bureaucracy. This problem will become more and more significant as efforts are made to increase the economic and social welfare role of the state in which a weakened political dispensation will try to implement development schemes through weak machinery. Ideally, even a weak dispensation may be propped up by a strong administrative setup but a weak governmental apparatus may not be able to support it in turn.

There is no simple solution to the dilemma of keeping government administration efficient as well as responsive to the will of the electorate. The increase in the power, function and sheer size of modern government necessitates the existence and sustenance of bureaucracy. It is utopian to think that the electorate’s dismissal of the inexpert politician, who formally heads the bureaucracy, will by itself change the course of bureaucratic-activities. In this context the question that never loses its importance is that who controls the existing bureaucratic machinery and such control is possible only in very technical specialists. Generally speaking, the trained permanent official is more likely to get his way in the long run than his nominal supervisor, the cabinet minister, who is not a specialist.

In wake of the modern approaches to altering perceptions of bureaucracy is that for the most part they have not raised questions about the social origins and the relationship of such factors to government policy. It is possible that the expert’s blindness to the sources of civil service biases may be related to their own identification with the government administrator and their disinclination to accept the fact that the behaviour of their own group is determined by personal prejudices. This factor would well be discernible when a civil servant presents the data to his minister with the aim to carry out the policy of the government in power and then reverses his policy when new government comes into office and this factor in Pakistani context plays a disastrous role in governance. This factor becomes crucial when it is applied mainly in terms of struggles among interest groups and political parties in which the bureaucracy is supposedly a passive and neutral factor.

With improved understanding and changing perspective, however, it is deduced that the government bureaucracy does play a significant role in determining policy but still it leaves the bureaucrat in a social vacuum as he did recognise that he plays an active role but the determinants of that role are analysed purely on the bureaucratic level. The bureaucrat’s actions are analysed on the basis of the goals of the civil service-self-preservation and efficiency. These interests may be defined in terms of prestige and privilege, preservation of patterns of organisation or relationships within a department, or maintenance of department traditions and policies.

There is little recognition that the behaviour of government bureaucrats varies with the non-governmental social background and interest of those controlling the bureaucratic structure. Members of a civil service are also members of other governmental social groups and classes. In this backdrop change of party in government, however, does not usually require a civil servant to make any major adjustments and the functions of departments and of government as a whole remain fairly constant. It is required to be kept in view that changing the perceptions of bureaucracy become vital as it does make a difference to society which set of bureaucrats controls its destiny. In this context it is suggested that there is need to develop a bureaucratic social structure in order to operate efficiently. This still leaves a large area of indeterminate social action for a bureaucratically organised society as a definite theory of bureaucratic behaviour neglects the implication of an alternative pattern of bureaucratic response.

There is hardly any doubt that permanent non-political officials are required to insure continuity of government regulation and practices and made for stable relations with the state, regardless of shifts in party fortunes. This idea of merit civil service is now steadily challenged in Pakistan simply because as long as party politics remained contests between groups who accepted the basic orientation and activities of the state and the society, the bureaucratic perception cannot remain static. It is therefore imperative that the bureaucratic machinery starts altering in deeply-held beliefs and aim for creating more bureaucratic structures for effective decentralisation of administrative system and to facilitate devolution and efficiency of government as well as better representation of the people in governance. Bureaucracy is required to view the challenges from within the ambit of governance and try to separate their functional thought process from political considerations. TW


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