This section examines which groups are preferred within each public service, and the preferences designed to benefit them. What composition targets are set for each group? The section also checks for patterns across public services: which criterion receives the most emphasis in affirmative action? Do all preferred groups receive the same preferences?
The government’s affirmative actions are aimed at those who were historically forced to remain outside the social mainstream. This includes
Scheduled Castes (SC) i.e. castes listed in a schedule of the constitution. Called Harijan by Mahatma Gandhi and dalits in recent times, this group suffered rigid social exclusion and untouchability by being born in the lowest stratum of Hindu society; and 15% of public service positions are reserved for this group.
Scheduled Tribes (ST) i.e. tribes listed in the constitution. These groups, numbering 250, and speaking 105 distinct languages, remained outside the social mainstream of the country; and 7.5% of public service positions are reserved for them.
Other Backward Classes (OBC), which is the official name for those among the 3000 sub-castes of Hindus who also suffered discrimination based on birth, and for whom 27% of posts are reserved. This last category has been preferred since 1993, more recently than when preferences for the other two groups were made explicit.
Raising the maximum age limit for recruitment in public service up to five years and unlimited chances within this age limit;
Exemption from payment of examination fees;
Notification of all vacancies of SC and ST to Employment Exchanges and sufficient advertisement in newspapers;
Carry-forward of vacancies, which could not be filled in a particular year for want of suitable candidates, and allowing these vacancies to be filled over and above the limit of 50% for all backward classes;
Persons, who are appointed on merit and not owing to reservation or any concession, will not be adjusted against reservation quota.
eservation for these three groups listed above are categorized as ‘vertical.’ The three preferred vertical groups receive slightly different preferences, as explained later in this section. The disabled, ex-army personnel, sports persons, or legal heirs of deceased government employees are also preferred groups in central and many state governments, but reservations for these categories are called ‘horizontal.’ The horizontal reservations, made on grounds other than caste, tribe or class backwardness lay down preferences within each of the four vertical categories: Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Class, and General / Unreserved. A few state governments have reserved positions for women. For 10 years after independence, Anglo Indians were a preferred groups and jobs were reserved for them.
Apart from these preferences laid down by central government, some state governments have stated preferences for locally dominant groups like the Maratha in Maharashtra and the Assamese in Assam. These state-specific preferences are different from the centrally mandated ones: groups preferred by state governments have not suffered past discrimination, but as local candidates receive protection from competition from candidates belonging to other states. The state government of Andhra Pradesh has zonal and district level quotas in unskilled jobs for people of the Telengana region of the state.
Affirmative action in public service composition is aimed to benefit ethnic Malays and other bumiputras (sons of the soil) who now comprise two thirds of the population and 90% of the public service. During British colonial rule, Malays were under-represented in public service as compared with Chinese and Indian settlers, who were better qualified for government positions. British administrators supported Malaynization of the public service. Long before Malaysia’s independence (1957), a 1943 regulation reserved 80% of positions in the elite Malay Civil Service (MCS) for Malays. The Malay Administrative Service, created in 1910 for government positions subordinate to the MCS, was closed to non-Malays until 1952. Quotas for Malays were continued in the independent country’s public service.
In addition to preference for bumiputras, 1% of total public employment in federal, state and local governments and statutory boards is reserved for handicapped persons according to Service Circular 10 of 1988. The visually handicapped, hearing and speech-impaired and the physically handicapped are included in this affirmative action, but only those handicapped persons registered with the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development are eligible.
Affirmative action in federal public service composition is aimed at proportional representation of ethno-linguistic and religious groups in the different geographical regions of the country. This goal was enshrined as the principle of federal character in the country’s 1979 Constitution. Although both the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions emphasized the need for all constituent states to be represented in the federal public service, the preferences expressed still translate broadly to ethnic preferences. Each of Nigeria’s 36 states is meant to contribute 2.75% of the federal public service, while 1% is supposed to be constituted from people belonging to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). When the number of vacancies is too small to include representatives from all 36 states and the FCT, or when insufficient candidates from a particular state is unable to fulfill its quota of public service composition, states and clubbed into 6 zones. Positions are distributed evenly among North West, North Central, North East, South West, South-South, and South East.
The Nigerian constitution also requires public service composition at the state and local government levels to reflect the diversity of ethno-linguistic, communal and religious groups within their respective territorial areas. In addition to these centrally mandated preferences, Nigeria’s Federal Character Commission (FCC) has recently re-affirmed that field offices of federal government are expected to hire at least 75% of staff in the lower grades (GL 01- 06) from among those who live in the catchment areas of the organizations.
Nigeria’s constitution makes no mention of affirmative action in favor of women, persons with disabilities or veterans. Nor is there any reference to special treatment for these groups in personnel policies, rules and regulations.
In South Africa, affirmative action is targeted towards race, gender and disability. As a result of apartheid, an overwhelming majority (97%) of those in middle and senior management positions were white in 1990. Africans and coloreds (official term describing persons of mixed race) dominated homeland administrations. But even after these were amalgamated with the government, their proportion in management positions did not increase. By 1994, 85% of top government managers were white men, 10% were Asian men, 2% were white women and 0.06% were Asian women. The very small remaining balance (2.94%) of top management were African men and women, and colored men.
In 1995, the White Paper on the Transformation of the Public Services included the following targets:
Within 4 years, 50% blacks at management level in all departments,
Within 4 years, at least 30% of new recruits at senior and management level would be women, and
Within 10 years, people with disabilities would comprise 2% of the public service.
Available documentation suggests that these targets were not based on any objective data.
Patterns in preference
Ethnicity is the most popular criterion for public service affirmative action. This finding is based on South Africa’s race criterion and Malaysia’s ethnic Malay criterion being used synonymously; and also realizing that Nigeria’s preference for geographical regions is a preference for ethnic groups inhabiting these regions. Disability as the next most popular preference, being affirmed in three out of the four countries reviewed, although its proportion of reservation is also the smallest, being between 1 and 3%. Women benefit from affirmative action in only one country (South Africa) out of the four. Caste is unique to society in Hinduism, India’s largest religion, and occurs nowhere else. The preferred groups in each country’s federal public service are summarized in Table II.1 below.
Table II.1. Summary of Groups Preferred in Federal Public Service
Among the four country practices reviewed, only the South African public service has explicit targets for women. The reason could be that apartheid had discriminated against women: very few senior management positions were held by white women, while colored women were not represented at all. Since the end of apartheid, significant progress has been recorded in the proportion of women in management and senior management positions. Their ratio increased from 8% in 1995 to 25% in 2004. However, this is still below the 30% target set by the government.
India has affirmative action for women in local government composition but not in central government employment: one third of seats in rural and urban local governments are reserved for women contestants. However, women’s proportion in federal public service has been rising, and women are appointed to very senior positions in central and state governments. A few state governments have implemented affirmative action for women in public service. In Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra, up to 33% of positions are ‘horizontally’ reserved for women within the preferred vertical groups, while Tamil Nadu government follows preferential appointment of women in some branches of public service.
Although there are no job quotas for women in Malaysia, government policies on women’s employment have been supportive. Recent policy guidelines permit women being hired as part-time workers, and when both husband and wife are in the public service, government posts them to the same place. Women occupy 50% of the federal posts at the professional and management levels, but only 6% at senior management (staff) level and 10% at super-scale. They are no women in the top three levels (chief secretary, staff, and super-scale) in state and local governments.
No public service positions are reserved for women in Nigeria. However, women already comprise more than one-third (37%) of the public service, though they constitute a smaller proportion at the higher levels: 24% in grades 15 to 17, and 17% at the (topmost) consolidated salary level.
Preference for the disabled receives the least attention among the preferred groups. In India, 3% of central government jobs are reserved for the disabled, with 1% each for persons suffering from blindness or low vision, hearing impairment, and locomotor disability or cerebral palsy. But reservation for the disabled is a horizontal reservation, so as not to override the less-than-50% directive of the Supreme Court. It means that 3% each of SC, ST, OBC and General positions can be filled by disabled persons. The affirmative action’s report format does not even contain a column for compiling information on disabled persons’ employment.
In South Africa, the record of affirmative action for the disabled has been so poor that the Department of Public Service and Administration does not even keep proper statistics. The disabled comprise a mere 0.3 % of management (PSC 2004, 37), which is a long way from the 2% target.
The Malaysian government’s policy has been to reserve at least 1% of total public employment in federal, state, and local governments and statutory boards for handicapped persons. Only handicapped persons registered with the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development are considered for special quota. The selection committees, including the Public Service Commission (PSC), consult the Ministry of Unity and Social Development on the kind of disability that will not affect performance on the job.
Both minor and major groups of the population are preferred for affirmative action. Target groups are usually a minority within the population in countries outside the four that were reviewed for this study. Looking to affirmative action in USA and New Zealand, blacks form one-eighth of the USA’s population, and Maoris constitute one-seventh of New Zealand’s population. In contrast, bumiputras in Malaysia (65%) and blacks in South Africa ( 75%) are the majority in those two countries’ populations. India’s Supreme Court deliberated the question of how much reservation: what proportion of positions could be reserved for affirmative action, and whether reservation should mirror the proportion of preferred groups in the population. The Supreme Court ruled that whatever the three preferred groups’ proportion in the population, reservation must be adjusted to stay within 50% of available positions. Nigeria’s affirmative action is technically aimed towards proportional representation in public service, but southerners have historically dominated the public service. So the groups that can benefit from affirmative action are the Hausa-Fulanis, who form about 28% of the population, and other much smaller ethnic groups of the north.
Preferred groups can receive different degrees of preference. In Malaysia, bumiputras do not enjoy any age-limit concessions, but those applying for positions reserved for the disabled do qualify for it. In India, one of the three vertically reserved categories—Other Backward Classes—enjoys fewer benefits of affirmative action than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Any person belonging to SC or ST, regardless of economic circumstance, is eligible for job reservation, but in order to be considered for reservation quota, OBC candidates must demonstrate that they have not enjoyed relative affluence and opportunities, that they do not belong to what the Supreme Court called the ‘creamy layer’. Another benefit, extended to SC and ST, is unavailable to OBC. Positions filled by promotion are reserved for SC and ST, but not for OBC.