We welcome the Civil Service Act which finally fulfils a constitutional pledge hanging in limbo for the last 47 years. Article 133 of the original 1972 constitution, states that subject to the provisions of the constitution, the parliament may by law regulate the appointment and conditions of service of persons in the service of the republic. However this provision remained unfilled all these days.
There were half a dozen laws related to this matter, three of which were martial law orders which can now be annulled.
However, it is unfortunate that a provision has been added to the law, shielding government employees from being handed over to the law enforcement on charges of criminal offence. This is a clear indulgence of corrupt practices. The addition of such a dubious provision to an overall good law, is contradictory to the government’s declared principles and ethics.
The law can give hope to the people amidst all sorts of frustrations. It states that appointments to public service will be made on the basis of merit and open competition. The preconditions for promotions in public service are honesty, efficiency and seniority. But corruption remains embedded in the system. People are deprived from services to which they are entitled. Corruption, politicisation and sycophancy have become a norm.
When the new law enters under such circumstances, honest political commitment is a must. Without that, it will be difficult to start practicing good governance.
It is hard to grow fresh hope for good governance. The elected representatives have introduced a provision that is defamatory for themselves and contemptuous of the court. As things stand now, police can arrest a member of parliament anytime, but not a civil servant. Further ironic is that this impunity only applies to legally registered government employees, not others. There is no impunity for those in any constitutional post, university officials and so on. That means a select circle has been created within the government. Such a discriminatory provision is a deterrent to policies of equality.
It is likely that the shady quarters within the bureaucracy were instrumental in enacting this bill. This impunity clause rendered the Anti-Corruption Commission ineffective.
The Anti-Corruption Commission Act was passed in 2013 with support of the development partners. But the addition of clause 35 (A) to the law simply restored the provision to prevent arrest of civil service officials without government approval.
This provision was challenged in High Court and it was hoped that the government would reconsider the matter and relent. But that did not happen. The government lost the case in the High Court.
The state went on to justify in the Supreme Court why the public servants needed to be protected. The court declared clause 35 A cancelled the clause 35 A, terming it as unconstitutional. The powerful bureaucracy has conjured up a fresh strategy. Now clause 41 has been added to place the Supreme Court in confrontation with the parliament and the government.
The state minister for public administration gave an incorrect explanation in support of the new law. It is the political policymakers who must take the liability for any development project such as the quick rentals in the power sector. He said that action in no way can be taken against the officials who are implementing such projects.
The Anti-Corruption Commissions justifies the law, saying that the government responsibilities have nothing to do with corruption and bribery. The commission says that the new law will apparently not be able to protect anyone accumulating wealth disproportionate to his or her income.