Civil servants’ behaviour By Kunwar Idris - Thursday 24th March 2011

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THE PCS (Provincial Civil Service) is a perpetually angry and aggrieved cadre of Pakistan’s civil servants. The roots of their discontent lie in the competitive system of entry into the civil services dating back to colonial times. It is not a new phenomenon — only, they have lost discipline.
The feeling of injustice that the PCS officers nurture has been finding expression, over the years, in representations, litigation and sometimes even in protest, but never in the breach of public order of the kind that was witnessed in Lahore recently.
It was at once amusing and disgusting to see a lot of them — including some young women — being herded into prison vans by policemen as they revelled in the defiance of law and decency.
For once, the custodians of the law were seen violating the law across the country and beyond on TV channels. Their ranks already weighed down by nominations, corruption, political affiliations or pressures, the agitating civil servants seem to be driving the last nail in the coffin of professional administration, thereby handing over, quite unwittingly, the responsibility of making decisions to the politicians, who would like nothing better.
The grievances of the PCS officers may be legitimate and their aspirations justified. But they must not compare their career path and promotion prospects with the DMG — the District Management Group which, though much diminished in worth and authority, is still a successor to the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) and before that the fabled Indian Civil Service of colonial times.
Z.A. Bhutto, fearful of the recognition and powers that the CSP officers had come to enjoy, split up the service into three groups. The district, being the hub of Pakistan’s field administration, and the District Management Group (combined with the tribal group), in the course of time have emerged to regain the stature that Mr Bhutto loathed.
Nor have the promotion prospects of DMG officers diminished to any significant extent. The cadre not only survived the later depredations of Pervez Musharraf but seems to have emerged even stronger after his departure.
The PCS officers must learn to live with the history, concept and structure of the federal and provincial civil services. They must also not forget the increasing spread of their postings and ever-improving prospects of their promotions. Here let me recall a personal example in support of this statement, if it is of any consolation.
My father joined the PCS in the year I was born. When I joined the CSP in 1957 at the age of 23, as additional sessions judge he was just one grade ahead of me. Seven years later, when he retired at the age of 60 and I was barely 30, both of us were in the same grade. But I held an all-powerful (call it lucrative if you will) post of political agent while he was an austere, slogging sessions judge.
Not much different was the situation of three or four of my batch mates who also happened to be the sons of PCS officers.
My father would sometimes mention, without making a grievance of it, that were he not over age by a year for the ICS examination in 1934 he, too, like his friend and class fellow N.M. Khan in Lahore’s Law College (both always competed for the top position) might have made it to the ICS and ended up as secretary to the federal government at the age of 50 or even less. He never let it bother him. He made up for it by writing law books alongside, that came to be relied upon by the superior courts.
Fate, time and accidents determine the course of a civil servant’s career as much as his competence, integrity or capacity to win the patronage of senior colleagues or politicians. Some officers who initially joined the PCS later rose as high — some higher — as the CSP officers. Familiar names that instantly come to mind are Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawabzada Sher Afzal Khan. I had the privilege to know both and worked under them. In competence and grace both outshone the best among their contemporary ICS/CSP officers.
Promotions in the PCS cadre in the normal course are much faster now than in my father’s time and for many years after independence. Now they hold many more jobs they could only dream of in the ICS or even the CSP days.
In colonial times, a PCS officer becoming deputy commissioner made news. It created quite a stir when some years after independence a PCS officer became deputy commissioner of Lahore or Karachi. Now perhaps there are as many PCS DCs (or by whatever other name the post is now called) as there are DMGs.
In this historical background and inherent limitations, all that the agitating PCS officers of Punjab can be advised is to seek remedy for their genuine grievances (where it is denied within the official hierarchy) by appealing to the tribunals, ombudsmen and courts — even the Supreme Court would take cognisance if a guaranteed or fundamental right is being denied.
In any case, they must not stoke fires on the streets which tomorrow they might be called upon to extinguish, only to find their moral authority undermined.
The writer is a retired civil servant.

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