By Syed Saadat | From the Newspaper Dawn
THE number of letters to editors imploring the government to increase the upper age limit for appearing in the Civil Superior Services exam is one indicator of how coveted a career it is.
Around 10,000 people apply to take it, and of those around 7,000 have the courage to actually appear in the exam, which is considered to be the ultimate test of knowledge and nerves. Around 700 pass the written exam and at most 350 make it to the final list of candidates who are sent to the prestigious Civil Services Academy for the Common Training Programme.
The average age in my training programme was 27-plus years. This is the age at which the corporate world believes an individual to be his most productive in terms of output, and the latest trend is for CEOs to be in their 30s. It is this aging cream of the country that makes it to the CSA.
But the euphoria of being successful makes time fly, and a month passes by quickly. Then comes the shock: Pakistan’s civil servants get their first salary, an astonishing Rs10,000. Although they know about the amount beforehand, believe me when I say that actually getting it in your hands is, for all the wrong reasons, a different feeling altogether.
The media keeps complaining that bureaucrats are corrupt. I ask, do we have a choice? It is not a matter of choice but a matter of subsistence. If you don’t want your wife and children to starve to death then you have two choices as a civil servant: either don’t marry or don’t be honest.
Ironically, you also have to execute a bond to serve a period of three years after the successful completion of training. If you want to leave, which obviously comes to pass when you are squeezed by circumstances, then you have to pay a sum of Rs1.5m to the government. Can somebody define bonded labour for me?
Our old man, who has by now hit his 30s but looks 55, puts up a smiling face in front of the world because he was never a whiner. He was always a hardworking individual who believed in his abilities, otherwise he would not have managed to get this far. A paradox now grips his mind. The perception created by the media and society is that the bureaucrat is successful, rich and classy. He is somebody who drinks classy wine and smokes Cuban cigars. But the truth of the matter is that Haji Ahmed, the servant working in our home, earns more than I do and, I can bet, works a lot less. I am not pleading a case for Cuban cigars or classy wine, I have no interest in either. All I ask for is a respectable salary that can help me make ends meet.
I can sense that some of you are on the verge of tears after listening to the sob story of a Pakistani civil servant.
Hold on, I have an answer to all this. I am not going to present utopian solutions, such as that the government should revise pay scales in light of the recommendations of the Pay and Pension Commission. Given the pace at which the government works, I would be dead and buried by then. My solution goes as follows.
My fellows from the police service have plenty of options. Apprehending the wrong person instead of the criminal by receiving some gifts from the guilty party is a viable option for jacking up their income.
Customs is self-explanatory; a very lucrative deal would be allowing sophisticated sugar-mill machinery into the country without any duty and showing it as scrap. Inland Revenue Service? The wonderful citizens of Pakistan are so eager to evade taxes. You can help them evade Rs10m by paying a million to you.
A District Management Group officer has 25 to 35 patwaris under his jurisdiction and Rs10,000 a month from each is a piece of cake. After all, who won’t pay to avoid a discrepancy in land records?
Guys in the Information Group can have their share of funds meant for publicising government policies and creating a better image of the government; nobody will notice because this image stays the same and nobody cares about it either.
Railways has plenty of iron that can be sold to steel mills at cheap rates, provided they know who to pay. Deals bringing in defective locomotive engines can take you to a whole new level. Secretariat Group, the people who run ministries, can be the movers, shakers and decision-makers for shady power deals at the right price. Last but not least, the Foreign Service. There are plenty of funds for the welfare of expatriates, and when you are posted out of the country you yourself become the most deserving expatriate. If my memory serves me correctly, an Indian national was caught in the US with a Pakistani passport that he obtained for a few thousand dollars.
Lastly, I would like to suggest to CSS aspirants to please think twice before taking this route. And if you do decide to finally take the plunge, don’t have any doubts about being corrupt. A Chinese proverb goes, ‘If you want to feed somebody don’t give him food, teach him how to fish.’ The GoP does this to a civil servant; they teach you how to fish.