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Highest grade of bureaucracy politicised?

The regime change in Islamabad has not only served the purpose of the politicians facing corruption charges but also their bureaucratic cronies who were being sent packing by the outgoing government.

Former prime minister Imran Khan had during his term in office completed his homework on the promotions of senior officers of the Pakistan Administrative Service and other services from grade 21 to grade 22. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the former Prime Minister had himself interviewed all the officers whom different agencies cleared for promotion. But those who were reportedly corrupt, politically affiliated, or involved in malpractices were not considered for interviews.

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The High Powered Board (HPB) that promotes officers to grade 22 could not be convened for reasons best known to the then prime minister Khan. Perhaps one reason for the delay in the convening of the board meeting was PDM’s challenge facing Imran Khan’s government. The other reason might be a no-confidence motion filed against his government in the National Assembly. Background talks with some officers who were interviewed by Imran Khan reflected that Khan had decided not to promote those officers who had political agendas to fulfill or had been facing corruption or maladministration charges. That’s why they were being superseded for promotion to the highest grade as federal secretaries or other such posts.

However, after the change of government, those on the driving seat also changed. Those who were on the top of the list of aspirants prepared by the Imran Khan administration not to be promoted, surprisingly, came to the top of the list of those who were promoted by the board chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. For example, the incumbent principal secretary to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Dr. Tauqir Shah, was one of the officers who were ignored by Prime Minister Khan for his political affiliation to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership. Shah had also served as principal secretary to the then chief minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif. Moreover, he was also allegedly nominated in the Model Town massacre case that claimed 14 lives of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s workers and injured about 100 people.

A senior officer who was one of the officers whom Imran Khan had interviewed said that there was no strict merit in the HPB. He said that astonishingly, the cabinet led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif abandoned the directory retirement policy formed and implemented by the former PTI government just a day before the meeting of the board. The policy was approved and implemented in 2020. Under the new policy, the officers whose fate was an unceremonious exit from service were promoted to the top level.

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Those who were competent, honest and had a clean service record were not considered for promotion, he stated. He said that some of the officers who were promoted to grade 22 were among those who had been issued show-cause notices under the policy. The same was done for their poor performance or their involvement in corrupt practices. Moreover, those officers who could not qualify for the highest level in selection boards were also being compulsorily retired by the federal government.

However, the cabinet decided to roll back the former government’s much-trumpeted directory requirement policy and subsequent rules. The purpose of the policy was an unceremonious exit of inefficient, corrupt and politicized officers from services.

Moreover, the policy also recommends sending those officers home who failed to deliver during their service. Some officers had challenged the policy in Islamabad High Court, which observed that there was nothing wrong with it.

Another officer, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Dr. Tauqeer Shah, against whom disciplinary proceedings were underway, had occupied the principal seat of the federal bureaucracy. He said that he managed and manipulated the policy placed by the outgoing government for top-level promotions through the cabinet. Talking about the stunning facts he said that to promote Dr. Shah, some other officers facing show-cause notices against directory retirement, were also promoted. Moreover, the political allies of the coalition government have also lobbied their candidates for promotion, the officer alleged.

The officer said that their consultation with other officers on the HPB recommendations is underway to challenge the proceedings to favor the blue-eyed officers. He said politically motivated promotions on that highest level have become a joke. He said that those officers who didn’t serve in the federal capital in grade 21 were also promoted to grade 22. Principal Secretary to Governor Punjab Dr. Rashid Mansoor, who had written a letter to the PTI governor Umar Sarfaraz Cheema to administer oath to Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz, was rewarded as promoted, he said.

Likewise, Dr. Ismat Tahira, who had never during her service served in the field as deputy commissioner or commissioner was also promoted. As sources claimed, she had been superseded. Others who were politically motivated made their way to the highest level of bureaucracy. Besides PML-N, Pakistan People’s Party from Sindh has also made efforts for the promotion of its men.

Those who were promoted to grade 22 of Pakistan Administrative Service included PS to Governor Punjab Dr. Rashid Mansoor, PS to PM Dr. Tauqeer Shah, Bushra Aman, Ismat Tahira, Zulfiqar Haider Khan, Naveed Alauddin, Hamid Yaqub, Iftikhar Ali Shalmani, Zafar Ali Shah, Farhan Aziz Khwaja, Fakhr e Alam Irfan, Saif Anjum, Dr Usman Chachar, Ejaz Aslam dar, Naveed Ahmed shaikh, Sara Saeed, Jawad Paul and former PS to the then chief minister of Punjab, Imdadullah Bosal.

Senior advocate Azhar Siddique said that the HPB cannot promote officers like Dr. Tauqeer Shah who faced serious allegations. Moreover, how can an officer who himself is controversial could decide the fate of other officers in such a high-level board, he questioned. He said that the SCP should also take suo motu notice of it as it did in transfers and postings.

While talking about the situation, advocate Tariq Ali said that the Supreme Court had on Thursday rightly observed that the transfers and postings were apparently targeted. He said that prima facie there was no or very poor objective criteria to promote officers from grade 21 to 22. This gap gives birth to many questions. Why, without observing a strict mechanism, promotions are done at high levels of the services? he questioned. Why are performance or professionalism compromised and personal or political affiliations honored.

There should be very strict, hard and fast standardized parameters to promote officers. The Islamabad High Court had rightly said that the directory retirement policy was good and that it was the government’s prerogative to formulate such rules.

He said that the repealing of the rules and policy just a day before the high-powered board was convened also raises questions. Moreover, the PS to PM Shehbaz, who was also an aspirant for promotion, was also part of the high-powered board. No one, as a principle, can be a judge in his own cause, he stated.

The PM House officer did not respond.

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