PM Nawaz rejects proposal to enhance CSS exam age limit

The NEWS: March 11, 2016
The civil service reforms agenda of the government suffered a serious blow even before its formal launch as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shot down the very first proposal regarding the CSS exams without even giving a chance to defend it to those who had prepared the scheme after months of deliberations.

The Ministry of Planning Commission and Reforms in consultation with other stakeholders, including the Establishment Division, had prepared a comprehensive scheme for the reform of the civil service entrance exam, known as the CSS Exam. Not only this, the Senate of Pakistan had also sought an enhancement in the upper age limit of CSS candidates.

But the scheme’s very first proposal seeking two years extension in upper age limit for the CSS candidates has been disapproved by the Prime Minister unilaterally on March 8 without confronting those who had prepared the scheme after series of meetings and prolonged consultations.

Upset with the PM’s office decision, the Ministry of Planning Commission and Reforms has decided to re-submit its recommendations to the Prime Minister Office, underlining that the proposal was the result of an extensive consultation process carried out on civil service reform.

According to the Establishment Division’s summary for the prime minister on the subject, the enhancement in the upper age from 28 to 30 years was sought in the light of proposed enhancement of educational level for the CSS candidates.

Interestingly as per the ED’s summary, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had himself directed the Minister for Planning Commission and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal to thoroughly examine various aspects of the civil service reforms including the issues of qualification and upper age limit.

A committee under Minister of Planning and Reforms was set up which had firmed up the recommendation that the educational qualification for the CSS candidates may be enhanced from Graduation level (14 years) to Graduation level (16 years). This very initiative necessitated the enhancement of upper age for CSS candidates.

The summary also contained a note by the Minister for Planning Commission and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal, who informed the premier that the proposals were prepared after numerous meetings between Establishment Division, FPSC, Planning and Reform Ministry and others.

Ahsan Iqbal underlined that it was unanimously agreed that due to more complex environment and challenges being faced by the society, the criteria of minimum educational qualification for CSS examination should be increased from 14 years to 16 years of education. Accordingly, it is also imperative that upper age limit should also be increased from 28 years to 30 years to account for increase in qualification. Ahsan Iqbal also mentioned in his note that the Senate of Pakistan had also unanimously made a recommendation for increase in age from 28 to 30 years.

To the surprise of many of those involved in the process of civil service reforms, the Prime Minister’s Office conveyed the disapproval of the Prime Minister. The official sources, disappointed by the PM’s decision, lament that they were not even invited to defend their case. They claim that the PM Office bureaucracy while acting as a parallel secretariat had got the proposal, prepared by the concerned ministries after prolong deliberations, killed by misleading the premier.

Official documents show that the PM Office while rejecting the very first proposal of the civil service reform agenda in more than two and a half years of present government’s tenure, conveyed to ED and Ministry of Planning and Reforms the following reasons:

1) The increase in the number of academic years from 14 to 16 years for a bachelor degree is really no justification to enhance the upper age limit for CSS candidates. Even if schooling begins at the age of six, a bachelor degree would be earned by the age of 22 years. And six years, i.e. up to the age of 28 years, is more than enough for any candidate to avail three chances to appear in the CSS examination.

2) The government should encourage people to join civil service at the younger age, at which they are expected to be comparatively more receptive to the core ethics of civil service and the basic tenets of the public interest.

3) The minimum existing stipulated requirement in terms of experience for any officer in BS-21 to be considered for promotion to BS-22 is 24 years. In actual practice it takes even longer, and most officers end up being able to serve in BS-22 for the last year or two of their careers. Many officers even superannuate in BS-21. The government requires its experienced and seasoned officers to serve in its most important executive, leadership and policymaking positions, i.e. BS-22, with a degree of stability and continuity. But for the large part this is not possible since most officers superannuate quickly after promotion to BS-22. Raising the age limit from 28 to 30 years would only serve to exacerbate this situation as even more officers would superannuate before, or soon after, their promotions to BS-22. This in turn would mean a further reduction in the pool of seasoned and experienced officers available to the federal and provincial governments for appointment in key positions. 

After the “No” from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Planning Division is now preparing to send a reference to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the request to review his decision.

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