Unbridled use of discretion in appointing senior officials is the hallmark of absolute monarchies or dictatorships
By: Dr Haider Shah
The recent controversy over promotions of senior members of bureaucracy and the verdict of the Supreme Court have once again rekindled concerns over good governance and the rule of law in the decision making process of government. As the present PML(N) government and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) have always accused their arch rival PPP of bad governance and paraded good governance as their forte, instances of disregard of the rule of law therefore become more conspicuous.
The unbridled use of discretion in making appointments of senior officials can only be found in absolute monarchies or dictatorships. In democracies clear rules and long standing conventions guide and control affairs of the state. If we look at the United States’ constitution we should expect maximum use of discretionary powers as it is based on the doctrine of separation of powers and all executive power is vested in the person of the President. In reality, however, even top level appointments are scrutinised by Senate to ensure that no mandatory requirements had been breached in such appointments.
The bone of contention in the new policy was the introduction of discretionary five marks which gave the CSB an overriding veto power to deprive officers of promotion even if they had otherwise scored enough marks from their performance evaluation reports that entitled them to promotion. The disgruntled officers knocked at the doors of Islamabad High Court in 2015 which declared the use of discretionary 5 marks in confirming promotions illegal and invalid. The government then filed an appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court which dismissed the appeal last month. Consequently the whole promotions policy of the government since 2015 has become invalid.
While the egg of using a discretionary policy to reward and punish senior bureaucrats was still all over government’s face, it went even a step further in making mockery of the highest judiciary’s verdicts. Instead of making amends to a flawed promotions policy, the government began posting beneficiaries of the policy against important assignments. One glaring example is the recent appointment of new IGP of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who was promoted to grade 21 under the same policy last year. Such disregard of the spirit of court’s judgements runs contrary to the demands of good governance in the country.
Any student of history can tell us that a cause common to all revolutions, insurgencies, and other forms of unrest is the prevalence of some kind of grievance among the stakeholders. Good governance has therefore increasingly become one of the most important issues in public administration. For career bureaucrats timely promotions and appointments serve as the most important motivational driver. When junior officers are posted on important positions while senior and competent officers are available this creates a culture of sycophancy and cronyism. A strong association between good performance and high levels of motivation is well established. Disregard to good governance cultivates grievances in the ranks and files of official machinery. If senior managers are demotivated we cannot expect marvels from our civil servants who play an important part in formulation and execution of public policy.
In all good governance frameworks transparency and accountability occupy a central role. When rules are publicly flouted it is important that concerns are raised and courts are approached for judicial review of administrative decisions. If the government wants to exercise unlimited discretion then it should legislate for such exercise of executive power. All existing service related laws and associated rules should be disbanded and replaced by unqualified use of discretionary powers in matters of promotions and appointments. However, as long as the current laws are in force, the government must comply with them.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org