It may sound like a joke that a career civil servant of the Commerce and Trade Group does not have a cadre posting in the Ministry of Commerce, but ironically this is true and happening very much in Pakistan.

Even more ironic is when one looks into profiles of officers posted in specialised ministries such as finance, commerce, investment and economic affairs. And then the honourable prime minister says that bureaucracy is not delivering. They are unable to deliver, until the right man is put to the right job.

Bureaucracy is like a horse, not only one needs to train and tame, but also use it in a proper racecourse if one wants to win, otherwise it becomes wild. The current bureaucracy may be trained to a great extent but is not being used/ posted in their areas of expertise or training. They need to be tamed as well, but many civil servants perceive current government’s action as intimidating rather than taming, thus, naturally some lean towards previous governments’ taming.

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The most prominent manifestation of underutilisation, however, is not using the right man for the right job.

Let us take example of a specialised group of civil services of Pakistan, namely the Commerce and Trade Group (CTG).

Passing through the Central Superior Services (CSS) filter, these officers are given specialised training in international trade, investment and related issues. Most of them get a chance to have foreign degree qualifications as well, in addition to specialised international training.

As the name suggests, this specialised cadre/group is mandated to take care of national and international trade and investment issues. And here comes a reality that may be stranger than a fiction.

To start with, any CTG officer cannot be posted in the Ministry of Commerce or Board of Investment except on deputation. Yes, true, they cannot be posted, except on deputation, even in their parent ministry, because they don’t have “cadre” posts in these ministries.

Moving on, the officers of CTG get a minimal share in foreign postings as commercial officers, despite being the most suitable and trained for such an assignment.

These positions, considered as prize postings, often go to other civil servants who manage to pull through the omnipresent “taqatwar merit” system, despite having an exam to filter the candidates. The non-CTG officers, most of the times, do not serve in commerce and related ministries before or after foreign postings.

Why not to send the CTG officers and use their experience and expertise in relevant ministries and departments? CTG is an asset but is sadly being utilised as a liability.

Looking at the non-CTG civil service officers, there are a good number of well-qualified officers in economic and related disciplines, but their postings are based on different criteria altogether, with almost absence of due regard to their qualifications.

There would be many deputy commissioners and FBR directors who are qualified in public finance and debt management but have a look at the federal ministry of finance and see how many officers are really qualified to hold the positions they are working on.

The situation is no different in the Board of Investment, Economic Affairs Division, Statistics Division and Ministry of Industries and Production.

It does not take more than a simple management of human resources, preparing pools/rosters of qualified and specialised officers in economic and related areas and then posting them accordingly.

However, it is such a sad state of affairs in the management of federal bureaucracy that even this simple task is not being done.

Probably, the merit and qualification-based postings would not make sense when a federal secretary praises an officer with the words “he is an excellent officer as he speaks and writes very good English”. We are not over with the “brown sahib” mentality yet.

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There have been umpteen mentions of “national executive service” and the “economic management group” in policy discourses of Islamabad, but until this fiction sees unlikely fruition, why not to work with whatever is available.

The honourable prime minister, it neither needs a constitutional change nor a new law to be passed, all it requires is an administrative decision and stern implementation to put the right people to the right jobs.

One can understand your frustration with the current bureaucracy that it is not delivering. Probably, it is not the allegiance with previous governments but the non-allegiance with the jobs for which they are currently tasked with.

You have been a winner prime minister, and you will win over the bureaucracy by appropriately using your relevant horses. You may be pleasantly surprised if you ask your team to let you have a full view of the horses you have in federal bureaucracy, especially for economic management.

One last point which is that 87% of the federal civil servants are not from Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS). The prime minister should keep this factor into consideration while tasking someone on choosing and putting appropriate horses to the economic management racecourse.


The writer is an international economist

Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2021.

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