Islamabad/Brussels, 16 February 2010: If Pakistan’s deteriorating civil service is not urgently repaired, public disillusionment and resentment could be used by the military to justify another spell of authoritarian rule.
Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Service,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the structure and functioning of Pakistan’s civil bureaucracy. It identifies critical flaws as well as measures to make it more accountable and able to provide essential public services. Military rule has left behind a demoralised and inefficient bureaucracy that was used to ensure regime survival. Low salaries, insecure tenure, obsolete accountability mechanisms and political interference have spawned widespread corruption and impunity. If the flaws of an unreformed bureaucracy are not urgently addressed, the government risks losing public support.
“Public perception is that the country’s 2.4 million civil servants are widely unresponsive and corrupt, while bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome and exploitative”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “Bureaucratic dysfunction and low capacity undermine governance, providing opportunities to the military to subvert the democratic transition and to extremists to destabilise the state”.
The civil service’s falling standards impact mostly Pakistan’s poor, widening social and economic divisions between the privileged and underprivileged. With citizens increasingly affected by conflict and militancy, the government’s ability to ensure law and order, as well as to provide services such as education and health care, will be as vital to containing the spread of radicalism countrywide as the use of force against militant groups.
Accountability of officials must be effective, impartial and transparent. Incentives for corruption could be reduced significantly with higher salaries and benefits, and better conditions of employment. The civilian government should also focus on transforming the civil service into an effective, more flexible and responsive institution. Reform should therefore include drastic changes to a rigid and over-centralised structure that has been unable to address local fiscal needs and underdevelopment, by delegating important administrative and financial functions to lower tiers.
Bureaucratic rules, procedures and structures should be modernised. Training programs need to be geared towards not just producing a class of capable civil servants, but to restoring a spirit of public service. The international community too can help to improve governance by supporting civil service reform, expanding training programs and providing technological support and expertise to modernise methods of administration.
“The future of the current democratic transition will not only depend on political reconciliation between the ruling party and its opposition, and constitutional amendments to restore parliamentary rule”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “It will also depend on restoring links between the citizens and the state”.
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The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.