The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s decision to increase discretionary powers of the Central Selection Board (CSB) – responsible for promoting senior civil servants – is a cause for concern, in violation of previous court rulings and against party principles to boot. The government just doubled the weightage of the CSB’s recommendation; the board now has control over 30 percent of the marks needed to promote officers from their current grade.

Allowing for discretionary powers to have a more significant impact on promotions will only lead to exacerbating problems in the civil sector. Issues such as nepotism, favouritism and juniors having to kowtow to their superiors in order to get promotions they deserve will only make the bureaucracy ineffective. These problems already exist to a degree, but the government is all but ensuring that they completely embed themselves within civil service culture moving forward.

This is not the first time a sitting government has attempted to hand more power over to the CSB to determine the best candidates for promotions. Only five years ago, the Establishment Division gave the CSB the power to issue a final approval or rejection of a candidate up for promotion if they did not receive three out of five marks for “integrity/general reputation/ perception”, values that can be considered subjective and changeable based on the CSB’s own interpretation of each case. This is not acceptable.

While the current government’s policy is admittedly not as direct, the objective of this one is more or less consistent with the previous one. The members of the CSB have been given a greater stake to determine who is fit to climb up the civil service ladder. Hard work, integrity and capability should be judged on their merit, not by how the work is perceived by others, especially if the CSB gets to act as judge over all cases of promotions. That is simply too much power to hand over up the hierarchy.

The ruling party’s own principles make merit and choosing the right person regardless of stature or subjective opinion regarding their performance a central tenet in the foundation of the change it is supposedly trying to bring. Institutionalising the problems it claims to stand against is highly disingenuous and goes against the electoral base that the party represents. The government must review this decision before it causes lasting damage to the bureaucracy. At the very least, its functionaries must come out and explain exactly how this policy is effective, or indeed, not politically motivated.