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The arbitrary manner in which the federal and provincial governments decide appointments and promotions of senior civil servants and particularly the recent decisions by the federal government in this respect has sparked a public controversy as well as legal challenges. In what clearly looks like an attempt to surround itself with pliable officers at the expense of merit, the rules have been changed with the Prime Minister exercising discretion to give or withhold promotion on the basis of an officer's reputation and integrity - both criteria indefinable in precise terms. Questionable integrity, of course, requires evidence that can stand in a court of law and needs to be pursued accordingly; while efficiency, if that is what reputation is supposed to mean, can only be judged on the standard of service record rather than what the Prime Minister hears from people around him who may have their own reasons to play up or down an officer's professional standing.

The case of Raana Ahmed, a grade-21 officer in FBR's Inland Revenue Service (IRS), who has approached the Supreme Court to seek justice is illustrative of how highly politicized is the selection process. The court was informed that at the meeting of the High Powered Selection Board (HPSB) the person best placed to assess the credentials of the candidates up for promotion, FBR Chairman, was absent and someone not supposed to be there was there: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. And bypassing the petitioner, despite her 35 years of unblemished record and the fact that she was number six on the seniority list, individuals on 10th and 16th seniority level were promoted. The court has directed the HPSB to hold a proper meeting and decide promotions according to seniority and service record, and submit its report within four weeks. A few days earlier, in a somewhat similar case, the Sindh High Court found "large-scale illegalities and discrepancies" in the written tests and interviews for the Combined Competitive Exam-13 held by the Sindh Public Service Commission, declaring the exam null and void. The provincial government was also ordered to appoint a new SPSC chairman within two weeks; and persons with "stipulated qualifications" to the vacant commission members positions within four weeks. At the root of these cases is an unmistakable desire on the part of governments both at the centre and in the province to put favourite officers in important positions.

The bureaucracy in this country is often accused of creating hurdles in the way of government policies and programmes. Indeed, bureaucrats are expected to follow orders from their superiors and implement their decisions, but part of the problem is the political class's own behaviour. Unfortunately, the public office holders, legislators, and other politically influential people all are in the habit of using the police and administrative service's officers for their own purposes, breaking and bending rules at will, and in return rewarding them with promotions and choice appointments. As a result, career-orient officers spend more time trying to please their political bosses than doing their duty towards the public. Needless to say, promotions and appointments made on the basis of political considerations rather than set standards of merit demoralise competent officers, and are detrimental to an efficient running of the system. One can only hope the push back from the courts will force the governments at the centre and in the provinces to mend their ways and stop politicising the bureaucracy.



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