Central Superior Services, commonly known as CSS, is the official title given to higher bureaucratic jobs in Pakistan. The original title called Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP), a derivative of Indian Civil Service, has been discarded since 1971. Currently managed by the Federal Public Service Commission, CSS is the continuation of an age old system of colonial governance. Owing to a number of historic reasons and the current economic downturn, CSS is the most sought after job for young educated Pakistanis.
There are twelve different occupational groups of civil service, including Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS), Police Services of Pakistan (PSP), Foreign Services of Pakistan (FSP), Customs Group, Inland Revenue Services, Pakistan Audit and Accounts Services, Commerce and Trade Group, Information Group, Railways Group, Postal Group, Office Management Group, and Military Lands and Cantonment Group; the sequence reflecting their respective prestige. The induction to civil service is made on a yearly basis through a competitive exam. It is calculated that the ratio of those passing the written exam and securing the job allocation is about 2% and 9% respectively. Last year, around 10000 candidates appeared, around 900 of them passed the written examination but only 200 were lucky enough to get the allocations in various groups of the service. Ten percent of seats in Police and Foreign Service are reserved for inductees from the Armed Forces. This quota, first introduced by General Zia ul Haq, is totally out of sync with the meritocratic norms of CSS.
Treated as blue-eyed children by society and the state, people hired through CSS are believed to be the most brilliant of the available lot. Apart from enormous authority and official powers, civil servants in Pakistan enjoy perhaps the most prestigious status in society. The prospects of status and perks lure many hardworking and brilliant young people towards this field. It is commonly believed that if you want to be secure, prosperous and respectable, you should opt for CSS.
However, this leads to a situation where young people become merely result-oriented and the only focus is to get good marks to secure a higher position. To this end, CSS candidates look for all sorts of notes, helping guides and golden rules. A whole market of CSS preparatory material to make the exam easier is in vogue. It has therefore become possible for candidates of average IQ with questionable analytical and critical faculties to secure enviable positions in the Civil Service just by following some set patterns of passing the exam. This trend has failed the very purpose of conducting a competitive exam. It is no surprise that government authorities are not quite dissatisfied with these diminishing standards. Resultantly, a majority of the people securing high grades in CSS carry with them the same thought patterns and biases they have learned from poor public sector education.
When such candidates land in the Civil Services Academy as ‘officers’, they await a warm welcome and grandeur of a newly achieved high status. They now aspire to make good contacts in bureaucratic and political circles. Officers of Police Services of Pakistan (PSP) and Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS) get better opportunities of public relations due to the nature of their job. This also creates a sense of resentment in officers of other departments who think they are being marginalized and not given deserved value in the race for attractive postings and promotions. The system of promotion in Civil Service is generally well regulated, but again, not for all the groups. People in the Postal, Railway, Military Lands and Cantonment Group, and now even in Customs, do not seem happy in this regard.
From my personal experience and observation I discovered something unexpected. I have witnessed the shattering of dreams of many young CSS officers. When these officers start their job after training, they find the reality of day-to-day work too harsh. For example, officers of the Inland Revenue Services and Pakistan Audit and Accounts Services conclude that against all their expectations, the real nature of their working is too clerical. As a result, frustration starts kicking in. The average salary of a start up Civil Servant is not very competitive either. For most officers, including an Assistant Superintendent of Police, the average monthly salary is around 30,000 rupees. An officer of the Office Management Group, Information Group, and Trade and Commerce Group normally does not get an official vehicle and residence. It may sound strange, but many officers of the above mentioned services, who do not receive extra financial support from their families, use public transport and live hand-to-mouth in a city like Islamabad.
The infrastructure of the Civil Service further frustrates the young blood. For example, there are no proper offices for the Inland Revenue Services (IRS). Such factors come to serve as an excuse for the poor work standards of the de-motivated officer cadre. It would be too much to expect that these passionless officers, working in small shabby cabins, would be able to generate enough revenue to meet the requirements of the state. Moreover the poor pay structure and other facilities serve as usual excuses for legitimizing corruption.
Despite its increasing demand, the Civil Service is rapidly losing its standards. The superiority claim of CSS is legitimate mostly because of the legacy it carries. Undoubtedly it used to be an effective, efficient and progressive institution in colonial India, but nowadays the situation is very different.
Despite the dismal state of the Service, the widespread craze among young graduates hints at the heightening insecurity about career. To a CSS aspirant, I would say the following: having experienced the so-called prestige of the Civil Service, I must admit that I find fields such as media, finance, management and information technology are better to be far better in terms of personal growth and professional exposure. CSS is just a career choice among many others; it should not be given a superior status. You should venture into this field only if you feel it is the one that suits your temperament best.