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Political meddling: Punjab reeling from governance crises

MISMATCH OF EXPECTATIONS of the civil bureaucracy and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ’s government in Punjab has grown with every passing day since the latter assumed power over two years ago, for the sole reason that it could not honor its own narrative built during its opposition days. The result is governance crises emanating from slow working and cautious decision-making, that too with certain safeguards.

The PTI had taken a lofty stance with the slogan “no to corruption and undue political interference in government affairs” with Prime Minister Imran Khan himself stating that no one (including bureaucrats) would be spared if found involved in corruption.

However, consequent arrests of some bureaucrats including those who had retired besides victimization of those complaining about political interference created more fear than confidence in the bureaucracy leading to impasse in decision-making and creating chaos.

Pampered with a feeling of government support to eradicate corruption and undue political pressure of ruling party parliamentarians, two deputy commissioners had mustered up the courage to complain against such politicians in writing to the chief secretary but their actions turned into “dreadful dreams”.

Less than a month after the PTI had formed its government in Punjab, Chakwal Deputy Commissioner Ghulam Saghir Shahid and Rajanpur Deputy Commissioner Allah Ditta Warraich complained against ruling party MNAs for political interference in administrative matters and sought action against them.

Mr. Shahid had alleged in his complaint that MNA (NA-64) Sardar Zulfiqar Ali Khan had sent him a list of 17 patwaris and girdawars, seeking their transfer and posting according to his will. The MNA later visited the DC and hurled threats of dire consequences.

Similarly, in the early days of September 2018, Mr. Warraich reported political meddling by MNA Sardar Nasrullah Khan Dareshak and his sons MPA Sardar Hasnain Bahadar Dareshak (now minister for livestock and dairy development), Sardar Ali Raza Dareshak (former MPA) and MPA Awais Dareshak. The demand was yet again transfer and postings of various revenue and Border Military Police officials.

The government, however, completely ignored the contents of the complaint and immediately served show-cause notices upon the two deputy commissioners for “violating the chain of command” and tried them under the Punjab Employees Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability (PEEDA) Act 2006.

Mr. Shahid says he is still being victimized and has suffered nine punishments so far. Beginning with transfer from deputy commissionership, he says his two years’ increments were stopped for two years under the PEEDA Act and his promotion case deferred five times by the Provincial Selection Board during the last two years.

Stating that withholding of promotion is a major punishment as per Supreme Court’s ruling, he added that now he has been transferred and posted against an ex-cadre post of secretary Agriculture Commission, which is lying redundant since 2016.

“There is no office, no vehicle, no staff, no executive allowance and above all no work,” he regretted.

Similarly, former Punjab food secretary Naseem Sadiq had in April this year called the federal government inquiry committee’s ‘Wheat flour crisis inquiry report’ an abortive attempt to save the nexus of the flour mafia and their benefactors by deflecting flour crisis to wheat procurement. He, in his written reply, had sought a judicial inquiry into the matter to reveal the truth.

Mr Sadiq, who was serving as commissioner DG Khan, was made OSD on his own request to defend his position with the optimism that collective conscience of the system and the authorities may prevail.

However, the then chief secretary retired Major Azam Suleman Khan did not forward Mr. Sadiq’s reply to the federal government and it was later forwarded by incumbent chief secretary Jawwad Rafique Malik. Over four months later, the response to the reply is still awaited.

Most officials say the bureaucracy’s confidence was shattered when they saw the PTI government was not putting its weight behind those complaining about political meddling. They also term sidelining of complainant officers as a “tribal mindset” under Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.

“Many are no more complaining in writing and those making verbal complaints to the chief minister’s office and yet not getting proper response but transfer letters are taking flight to greener pastures in public sector companies, foreign-funded projects and international organizations,” a senior officer regretted.

In order to avoid major financial and risky decision-making in public sector departments, most senior bureaucrats had opted not to be posted in high-budget departments required for doing procurements running in millions and billions of rupees. Former secretary services used to say, “these days small-budget departments are hot cakes for those seeking postings in Punjab”.

In November last year, when the bureaucracy was reshuffled on the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, a senior officer commented,

“Baray baray bureaucrats ko chhotte chhotte depart-ments sey nikal ker baray departments mein lagaya hai.” (senior bureaucrats have been transferred from small-budget departments and posted in big public sector departments requiring serious administrative and financial decision-making).

Prior to this reshuffle, the prime minister had held a meeting with the bureaucracy in Punjab wherein former chief secretary Azam Suleman had told the premier that there was a complete trust deficit in bureaucracy and major financial decisions were not being taken. “The country’s economy cannot be put on the path of progress without ensuring robust public spending,” he had said and added that private sector investments alone could not run the country’s economy.

Explaining the bureaucracy’s trust deficit, an officer opined that the incumbent government is not even able to distinguish between mistakes or forced mistakes and corruption.

“The governance crises in Punjab is deepening just because the PTI government is yet not understanding that what is trust deficit, mismatch of expectations and why even those officers who were earlier performing well are no more delivering,” a senior bureau-crat offered food for thought to those at the helm of affairs.

The officer also explained that the PTI government did not stick to its narrative that the civil bureaucracy was not subservient to the politicians and they should refuse unlawful orders. The PTI should not have taken superior stance and instead created realistic expectations, the officer added.

“The bureaucrats are now vigilantly conscious about ‘financial risk’ and ‘political risk’ as no clean bureaucrat wants to be tagged as a supporter of a political party. Officers are now looking for posts, where both these risks are at minimal level,” an officer in the chief minister’s office told this reporter.

“Either those officers are getting ‘prized postings’, are aligned with both the PTI and PML-N or have bowed and committed to serving the party’s cause with the ‘highest bid’,” a senior officer lamented and added,

“Those getting prized postings are also being exposed within the bureaucrats’ community for being corrupt or politically aligned.”

Asserting that hard work, robust decision-making, and even integrity is not able to save bureaucrats at their positions, an officer commented while referring to the transfer of Punjab local government and community development department secretary Ahmad Javed Qazi to a low-profile Labour Department. Mr. Qazi was instrumental in finalizing the Punjab Local Government Act and completing spadework including delimitation of constituencies to hold the all-important upcoming local government elections in Punjab.

Citing an episode of political interference in bureaucrats’ postings, an officer in the chief secretary’s office stated that a vague report on a news channel that certain commissioners and deputy commissioners were being shuffled had attracted a barrage of phone calls from ruling party parliamentarians urging the chief secretary that the officers posted in their respective constituencies should not be transferred. “This speaks volumes about political interference and incumbent officers’ subservience to their political masters,” the officer regretted.

Former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif also used to pick-and-choose officers for posts of deputy commissioners in important districts but other non-aligned officers also used to get deputy commissioner postings in a natural turn.

“This case is no more. No DC is being posted in a natural turn but on the recommendations from respective districts’ PTI parliamentarians,” the officer bemoaned.

The prime minister’s recent direction that the newly posted DCs and other senior officers would make courtesy calls on the party parliamentarians and leaders has added fuel to the fire and the first casualty is “quality of decision-making” leading to complete governance crises in Punjab, the officer added.

Article by: Qasim Malik

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