Is our Civil Service still ailing?

My dear Billy, There is a general misconception among the public that our civil service consists of a group of potentates and magnates, a class apart of rulers who don’t need to go to the polls to acquire power, and who have been endowed with the divine ability of changing the course of the wind and enjoying la pluie et le beau temps at will. I’m sorry for the French idiom, but I confess I don’t know the English version. This perception of the Civil Service is a myth that has transcended time and has persisted over the decades. At a certain period it was even thought that the Civil Service was a kind of sinecure, a sort of refuge for people who had nothing better to do, but who had the appropriate connections. Not everyone worked in a government office, including those who worked in a government office. All that a public officer wanted was an honest month’s pay for an honest week’s work, abetted in his claim by a host of union leaders. Government employees did not think of their offices as a workplace. They thought of it as a haven where they would report in the morning, at any time convenient to them, read all the papers, make unlimited calls on the office telephone, drink tea, chat with colleagues and friends, go out shopping, grab envelopes and other stationery, their supplies of toilet paper, and go home at a time appropriate to them. Of course, all this if it ever existed, has changed. Not all officers can reach office at times convenient to them. They can’t read all the papers or make unlimited calls on the office phone or chat with colleagues and friends througout the day, etc etc. They no longer leave their jacket hanging on the office chair while they are away doing their own things. But the perception is still there, although the bulk of our Civil Servants are quite civil and conscious of their responsibilities. Many of them do indeed perform an honest day’s work, although they may not be receiving a commensurately honest pay at the end of the month. Our officers are nice, smartly dressed without being too gaudy, generally polite and well-behaved; above all, they are educated and qualified for the job they have been recruited to fulfill. Many are quite efficient too and highly reliable. You will understand, however, my dear Billy, that perfection doesn’t belong to this world. When God was in the process of creating the universe, He did it with wonderful mastery where the earth, the sky, the forests, the rivers, the oceans, the birds and other creatures and creations were concerned. But when it came to human beings, He seems to have miserably failed. He could not get the right connection. Actually, God made a mistake while creating man, and when He discovered His blunder, He committed another monumental blunder in an attempt to correct the first one: He created woman by taking off a rib from man. Was He so short of material? The fact unfortunately remains that the men and women manning the Civil Service today descend from the original God who tried to create to His own image. But it still goes to their credit that a majority are quite good and performing on the whole, and deliver according to expectations. However, this is greatly marred by a small army of officers who undo all the good work of their colleagues and bring a bad name to the institution. Such officers exist in all the echelons of the service, right from the top level of Permanent Secretary to the bottom grade of attendant and labourer. It has been a permanent endeavour of succeeding governments to bring some reform to the Civil Service. But, my dear Billy, it is perhaps not the Civil Service as such that needs to be reformed, but some of its officers. It is the mentality of these officers that should be made to undergo a complete overhaul. Some of them have egos as big as the leviathan. Many are envious. Laziness is another scourge that gnaws at the service. I know of one officer of a certain grade who had a very canny method of shirking work. Whenever a file landed on his desk, he would immediately dispatch it either upward or downward: If the task was difficult and complicated, he would send it to his superiors; if easy and simple he would it forward it to his subordinates. That’s why the complaint often reverberates that the reward for good work is more work. Things do somehow work out here, my dear Billy. But they are often hampered by petty jealousies and bickerings, unnecessary prejudices springing from considerations of caste and community, ugly clashes of personality, superiors wary of the risk that they may be surpassed by their subordinates and so dampen every move and initiative on the latter’s part. The almost permanent rivalry between administrators and technicians of the same Ministry is another cause for projects not taking off. Civil Servants must ensure that they are not politically biased and that they uphold the values of impartiality, integrity and transparency. That’s an essential prerequisite of course, and our civil servants are by and large capable of proving it. But will their Ministers allow it? Our Ministers act as if they owned their Ministry and force officers into doing things contrary to regulations. Some officers are always ready to oblige, of course, but those who are not may expect heaven to fall on their heads at any moment.

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