Reforming the executive- Part I

Dr Ishrat Husain

Good governance is found to be closely linked with sustainable and equitable development of a country. However good some policies may be they will have very little positive effect unless the institutions implementing those policies are governed well.
The governance structure of any country consists of the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. The current efforts in Pakistan to assert the supremacy of the parliament and to establish the independence of the judiciary are steps in the right direction. Once accomplished, these measures will contribute to the improvement of governance. But for an ordinary citizen it is the executive branch that is most germane for his day-to-day life. An effective set of institutions with capable and competent civil servants and a streamlined and simplified process that are fully accountable to parliament for results would make a lot of difference when it comes to a citizen either suffering misery and grief or obtaining redress and relief at the hands of these institutions.

The National Commission of Government Reform (NCGR), consisting of seven eminent persons drawn from various walks of life and three federal secretaries, has submitted its report to the prime minister on the reform of the institutions of the government so that they can serve the citizens well. Unlike the reports of the various commissions and committees set up in the past, the distinctive feature of the NCGR report is that it is comprehensive in nature, addresses the structural deficiencies and weaknesses at all three tiers of government (federal, provincial and district), examines the full spectrum of civil services of Pakistan (superior, cadre, ex-cadre and subordinate services and human resources policies associated with these services), and reviews the processes, procedures, rules and regulations under which various government departments operate. As the reforms pertaining to the structure, policies and processes would be implemented in a medium- to long-term time frame, the commission has made recommendations for immediate improvement in the governance of education, health, police and land administration – the areas where an ordinary citizen faces most difficulties.

The commission’s recommendations are posted at its website www.ncgr.gov.pk and can be easily accessed. This article presents only the main recommendations, summarised below:

The federal government has acquired too many powers and taken over too many functions over time, either by design or by default. Given the peculiar ethnic and regional composition of the country and the growing needs of an expanding population, this trend needs to be reversed. To begin with, the federal government should transfer the subjects of education (except for higher education and the curriculum), health, agriculture, labour, social welfare, population welfare, local government and environment to the provincial governments. The federal ministries dealing with these subjects should be abolished and a national council of ministers, consisting of the federal and provincial ministers working under the aegis of the Council for Common Interests (CCI) should formulate the national policies for these transferred subjects. The federal government would maintain the responsibilities for international relations and inter-provincial coordination in these subjects. Consequently, the number of federal ministries has to be cut from 41 to 23 and the number of divisions from 46 to 37. In view of the new challenges in the country, some new ministries are proposed within the revised structure. Ministries for energy, technology development, regulatory affairs, human resource development, social protection, infrastructure development, and special and underdeveloped areas, would be set up by merging some of the existing ministries and replacing others. The existing 411 autonomous bodies and attached departments, corporations, companies, councils, institutes, subordinate offices in the federal government should be regrouped into 177 autonomous bodies and 70 executive departments under the federal government. All other bodies would be merged, privatised, wound up or liquidated, or transferred to the provincial governments.

One of the lingering legacies of the past that has contributed to sub-optimal utilisation of civil servants and demoralisation of the majority among them has to do with the existence of superior and non-superior services.

The concept of the superior services should be replaced by equality of all services at the all-Pakistan, federal and provincial levels. Terms and conditions of all the services in matters of recruitment, promotion, career progression, compensation, would be similar. Specialists and professionals working in ex-cadre positions would be brought at par with the cadre services in terms of promotion and career advancement. To provide equality of opportunity to all deserving civil servants, a national executive service (NES) and provincial executive service (PES) ought to be constituted to man all the federal and provincial secretarial positions. Any officer serving the government at the federal or provincial level or an autonomous body in Grade 19 or equivalent level and other professionals meeting the eligibility criteria can appear at a competitive examination held by the federal or provincial public service commission. Those qualifying at this examination will be selected to the NES. To redress the grievances of the smaller provinces for lack of representation at higher decision making level, provincial and regional quotas will be introduced for entry into the NES. The NES will have two streams – general and economic, thus promoting some limited specialisation among our civil servants.

As most of the interaction between an ordinary citizen takes place at the district level and the present level of functionaries consists of ill-trained, poorly paid, unhelpful, discourteous individuals enjoying arbitrary powers, a new setup is required at the district level. District service should be constituted for each district government. All employees serving in Grades 1-16 will become part of the district service and serve in the districts of their choice throughout their career. Direct recruitment to Grades 11 and above will be made on merit through the provincial public service commission. The district service will consist of two cadres – generalist and technical. This will minimise the political pressures for transfers and postings as 1.2 million out of 1.8 million employees working in the provinces will remain in their respective district governments. Training in technical and soft skills will be made mandatory for all members of the district services. The district government has to be strengthened through the establishment of administrative linkages between the union councils, town committees/tehsil councils and district governments. Executive magistrates will be revived. Law and order, disaster management and land record management will be taken away from the purview of the district nazim. The office of district coordination officer will be transformed into that of district chief operating officer, with an enlarged scope of duties. The present system of devolution of development activities projects, programmes and departments is working satisfactorily and should remain intact and made more effective.

The all-Pakistan services will consist of the national executive service, the Pakistan administrative service (the present district management group), and the police service of Pakistan. The federal services will comprise the foreign service, the Pakistan audit and accounts service and the Pakistan taxation service. Direct recruitment to other existing services through the central superior services examination will be discontinued in a phased manner. The provincial services will include the provincial executive service, the provincial management service, the provincial technical services and the provincial judicial service. All direct recruitment to positions in Grade 17 and above will be merit-based, with due representation to the regional and women quotas. Recruitment in all cases will be made only by the federal and provincial public service commissions through an open, transparent and competitive examination and interview process.

(To be continued)

The writer was governor of the State Bank of Pakistan from 1999 to 2005 and is currently director of IBA, Karachi. He also heads the National Commission for Government Reform. Email: husainish@gmail.com

The News, 8/7/2008

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