What’s wrong with CSS; understanding power dynamics

The Cabinet Committee on Institutional Reforms has approved a proposal for renaming the existing Central Superior Services (CSS) as the Central Services of Pakistan (CSP).

The chairman of the cabinet committee observed that the nomenclature of Central Superior Services did not seem appropriate so he supported the recommendation for changing it with CSP.

Discursively, it is the perception of the word ‘superior’ that makes it appropriate or inappropriate in the country’s ever-changing power dynamics. In this regard, a pivotal question is whether the perception of the word ‘superior’ needs to be changed or just altering its nomenclature will suffice?

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The dynamics of perception and power

The answer to the question requires an understanding of how perception and power mutually coalesce while taking public decisions.

Perception as public learning, according to psychologist Wayne Weiten, illustrates the interpretation of organized patterns and objects by a certain class or group of people under certain group principles such as common interests, cultural values and norms.

The CSS is also a class of people, consisting of twelve occupational groups, trained through a Common Training Program (CTP) and tasked with taking bureaucratic decisions by the exercise of power. That means power stands at the core in defining the inscrutable parameters of perception.

Citing Bertrand Russell is relevant here as he views Power as a rudimentary concept in social science, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics. It means power inherently influences all main areas of administration such as law and order, foreign affairs, economy and taxation, trade, communications, and secretarial work.

Read more: The Seeds of Governance Destruction are Hidden in the CSS Exam itself

Concept of power in CSS

This suggests that modern concepts of power need to be the major focus both at the CSS examination and the CTP. However, the CTPs at the Civil Services Academy is primarily focusing on the exercise of power rather than power itself.

In principle, Power Studies needs to be a compulsory subject in the CSS examination. Currently, it is not even an optional subject, although it is present as a topic in some subjects such as sociology, political science and philosophy.

Unless the probationary officers know the mercurial nature and hidden dynamics of power, how can they effectively handle it when they join their field assignments? As a result, one could perceive the bureaucracy as discourteous and stiff-necked to the general public, though exceptions are always there.

Read more: CSS: Why are dreams of thousands shattered every year?

Based on this perception, and in the presence of vibrant media, the word ‘superior’ becomes inappropriate in Pakistan’s quasi-democratic society. However, merely renaming the CSS as CSP will not bring about significant change in the perception of the bureaucracy.

It is because the basic training modules of our civil and military institutions, despite changes, were framed by the British administrators several decades ago. It was a time when the intellectual understanding of power was limited and it was considered as a non-causal phenomenon.

It was partially because the technology was not very advanced. Strategically speaking, today’s Pakistan cannot afford to carry on an archaic colonial administrative mindset. Times have drastically changed since the British left the subcontinent.

A casual phenomenon?

From 1947 onwards, the understanding of power has phenomenally changed in the world. Back in 1957, Robert Dahl changed the perception of power by treating it as a causal phenomenon determined by the actions of the actors involved. One fine example of the actions of actors is a Twitter trend carrying the power to influence the decisions of powerful administrators.

In 1968, similarly, Dennis Wrong noted that people exercise mutual influence and control over each other’s behaviours, again suggesting power to be a causal phenomenon. The removal of DC and DPO after the Machh massacre is another example of the mutual influence of power in the presence of vibrant media.

Read more: Is the CSS Exam Getting Difficult? Who is to Blame?

In 1977, Michel Foucault treated power as a set of actions done on another person’s actions and reactions. Following Foucault’s interpretation of power, being discourteous is just not an option for the public servants in the wake of immense technological advancements.

This framework suggests that if an office-bearer is discourteous before the public, he will ultimately lose his own power.

A need for a deeper understanding

Depleting manual procedures in civil service have redefined the power relations in bureaucracy. The dictatorial management practices are fast becoming redundant and a symbol of backwardness.

Automation of convoluted administrative procedures is increasingly diminishing the legacy of colonial-styled governance by redefining power relations. Power is a closed loop in which new actors keep entering and leaving on a periodic basis.

Read more: Op-ed: Reforming the CSS exam system

The officers, with a deep understanding of the concept of power, will be in a better position to resist the status quo, accept change and cope with modern management challenges.

There is nothing wrong with the nomenclature of Central Superior Services; it is all about equipping the service with the latest concepts of power and their applications in modern administrative techniques.

Dr Babar is a seasoned officer from the CSS cadre. He holds a PhD in Economic Planning from Massey University, New Zealand and M.A from ISS, Erasmus University, The Netherlands. His articles regularly appear in national and international media. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.