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Monday, January 30, 2023
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Engineers threaten ‘strike’ if secretary not transferred

The engineers of the Irrigation Department, Punjab who have been protesting against the corruption in the secretary’s office demanded that the secretary of the department be transferred.

This happened for the first time in history that irrigation sector engineers went against the secretary. They demand the government appoint an honest, competent, and visionary officer to handle such a big department.

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When the publication dug out the facts of why engineers are against the secretary it surfaced that the ADP utilization of the department is low as funds are not being released by the secretary. It is also learned that repair works in flood-hit areas could not be made because of no funds that may cause havoc during rainfall.

The chief engineers have already had separate meetings with the Chief Secretary Abdullah Khan Sumbal, irrigation minister Hashim Dogar and the CM’s principal secretary, Mohammed Khan Bhatti, against the maladministration, cronyism, and racketeering of the irrigation department secretary. The engineers are threatening to go on strike if the secretary is not transferred.

There are allegations of collecting money from field officers by ex-deputy secretary admin (DSA) Mehmood allegedly for the hierarchy. The DSA office had threatened to replace, and initiate disciplinary proceedings against those who failed to ‘cooperate’.

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A Chief Engineer has also demanded his paid money of Rs 1.5m back from the former DSA. It was also alleged that a junior officer ignoring senior officers who neither completed mandatory training for promotion nor were senior on the list was recommended for the top slot of chief engineer. Moreover, he is a mechanical engineer who was recommended for a top slot of civil engineer.

The summary was not routed through the minister which is against the Rules of Business. Some other engineers have also alleged that the DSA office collected huge amounts of money from the field formations.

The CM has not ordered an inquiry into the allegations of corruption against the irrigation department secretary. However, the principal secretary Muhammad Khan Bhatti discussed options to improve the working of the department.

The floods have already destroyed irrigation channels in the province and development works to repair them are very slow as the secretary didn’t release funds. Huge sums of money are also being demanded to release routine O&M funds even though the finance department released funds on the 30th of September 2022.

The annual closure of canals is also around the corner. If canals are not carried out during closure it will cause a big loss to the agriculture and farming community. Moreover, the secretary did not hold regular DDSC meetings or sign the minutes of the last meeting held in November. It also adds a bottleneck.

On the other hand, the secretary through his cronies has been forcing the department-run project heads to accommodate his blue-eyed person Mehmood who retired the other day.

PMO Barrage’s project director Kashif has flatly refused to accommodate retired DSA in the project. It is also learned that the retired officer may be accommodated in PMO Canals. However, PMO PD Abbasi didn’t respond to queries from this scribe on the issue.

Additionally, Secretary Admin Asghar Joiya and Public Relations Officer also didn’t turn up to respond to queries.

Secretary Nasir proceeded on ex-Pakistan leave to perform Umrah while Secretary Agriculture Ahmad Aziz Tarar was assigned the charge.

It may be recalled that the secretary had posted XEN Shabbir Haider as PMO Head who released Rs 560 million bank guarantees despite the work not being completed and the final bill not being submitted by the ‘Engineer’. Further, About six million rupees loss was incurred on exchequer due to delayed damages as the payment to the contractor was not made within due time.

Sources further said the ex-DSA faces corruption charges. He has links that are helping him to keep his position. Another possibility, as officials think, is that he may have bribed officers in the form of vehicles to stay in power. Additionally, the officer may simply be very good at hiding their corruption and managing to keep their crimes under the radar.

The secretary may be trying to ensure that the retired officer remains in a position of influence so that he can continue to corrupt other government officials or siphon funds from the projects, alleged an official of PMO.

If the officers in the irrigation department continue to conflict with each other, it will hurt agriculture production. This is because the department will be unable to make decisions or take actions to improve irrigation and help crops grow. Additionally, while the department is in disarray, corrupt officials in the field formations have also taken advantage of the situation and demanded bribes for their services. This could lead to less productive crops and farmers losing money.

Both the chief minister and chief secretary should take cognizance of the worsening situation in the sector that provides lifeblood to agriculture. A high-level Probe committee may be constituted to look into the mismanagement of over a thousand vehicles pool, graft allegations on DSA, and influence the foreign-funded projects to accommodate a retired official.

The committee should also face multiple charges of embezzlement against the DSA who worked as a DDO for more than a decade. Moreover, the committee should also investigate the loss of six million and bank guarantee releases of Rs 560 million.


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