After an interregnum of more than a decade, the issue of governance reforms agenda is again in the spotlight. Various indices of social, economic and human development tell the story of governance in Pakistan. In simple words, governance is the capacity of a state to make and implement policies. The World Bank defines governance as the traditions and institutions by which a country exercises authority. In the larger panorama of governance, civil service is just one actor on the stage which plays a pivotal role but the performance depends largely on; the entire setting of the stage which includes other actors and rules of game. The rules of the game, for civil service are dictated by the overall social, legal and political ambience of a country. As the performance of civil service depends on many externalities, governance change requires much more than merely restructuring the civil service. It is institutional change which must accompany any initiative to make civil service efficient and effective. On a bumpy road, the most powerful Ferrari won’t be able to drive fast without structural damages. Same is the case of civil service in the institutional setting of Pakistan. In the absence of a conducive social, legal and political environment, it cannot give the desired output. Nobel laureate American economist Douglass C. North says institutions include both informal customs, traditions societal norms and formal laws and rules. Civil service performs well only when institutional setting creates favourable working conditions. If politics of patronage, antiquated legal codes and absence of legal protection for civil servants form the contours of administrative environment then it seems unfair to blame civil service for the governance ills. The civil service of Singapore is known to have played a remarkable role in governance and macroeconomic development of the city state. What makes civil service of Pakistan different from such oft mentioned role models? In the case of the elite cadres of civil service in Pakistan, academically high accomplished candidates are selected after a highly competitive selection process. Educational attainment of Pakistani civil servants is second to none globally. For instance, people with PhD degrees from universities like Stanford and Cambridge are members of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS). Every year a sizable number of civil servants win prestigious Chevening and Fulbright scholarships to get graduate degrees from institutions like the Ivy League universities, Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics. With such quality of human resource, the output efficiency of civil service indicates that the problem lies somewhere else; the problem is the absence of a conducive institutional environment. Without reforming the institutional setting including the legal framework and terms of engagement with different power centres, any reform efforts will take us nowhere. On a bumpy road, the most powerful Ferrari won’t be able to drive fast without structural damages. Same is the case of civil service in the institutional setting of Pakistan. In the absence of a conducive social, legal and political environment, it cannot give the desired output The institutional reforms process is a prerequisite of any meaningful effort to transform the civil service. Indeed, it is quite an arduous process but unfortunately there exists no shortcut to change the quality of governance in Pakistan. This should begin with a re-examination of statutes, rules and codes along with dynamics of social power relations. Outdated processes and jargons should be replaced with simplified procedures, laws and rules. The power of street-level bureaucrats, like police Muharar or revenue Patwari, stems from their monopoly of domain knowledge caused by use of archaic vocabulary and procedures for those things which can easily become simple and understandable if institutional reforms efforts are made in real sense. This demands both patience and sheer political will. Probably this is the reason that short term solutions like establishing Public Sector Companies (PSCs) as ‘special purpose vehicles’ sell more quickly vis-à-vis painstaking reforms process. Civil service reforms process should be synchronized with institutional reforms process. Simplification of business processes, decentralization, specialization, application of technology and fair remuneration are some of the areas where reform efforts should focus. In order to pluck the low hanging fruits in the beginning, quick measures can be taken like making rules for tenure security of civil service jobs, charting key performance indicators (KPIs), introducing KPIs based performance appraisal and doing away with unified pay scales. In the next phase, different aspects of civil service reforms viz. training, career management, internal accountability mechanism and business process reengineering should be undertaken. In a nutshell, the governance of a state is much more complex than management of a private commercial enterprise. While analysing the role of public sector managers this complexity needs to be acknowledged. This would be the first right step in the direction of meaningful governance and civil service reforms. The writer is a development policy analyst and an alumnus of the London School of Economics Published in Daily Times, September 23rd 2018.