Power play by speaker, masterstroke by governor

Political activist says Ataullah Tarar's indecent gesture towards speaker shows powerful give the finger to the law and are rewarded

Some bureaucrats have defended the curtailing of speaker Punjab Assembly’s (PA) powers by placing it under the law department’s secretary, terming it a just move.

No institution should be above that law. Parvez Elahi had misused his authority after the PA was excluded from the purview of the rules of business, said a senior officer of the Services & General Administration Department (S&GAD) Regulations Wing.

Speaker Elahi, he said, had blessed undue favours to his people. There was no check on the PA Secretariat after the new arrangement, he held. He said that Elahi as a speaker promoted a junior official Muhammad Khan Bhatti, currently holding secretary assembly office to the highest grade i.e BPS 22. An official who was not selected from any competitive procedure was surprisingly elevated to the highest grade, he said. As per the rules of business, only one officer, the chief secretary can hold the highest grade 22 in the civil administration while the inspector general police will be the officer in uniform.

He said that any officer posted in the province in grade 22 – like Babar Hayat Tarar as Senior Member Board of Revenue (SMBR) – would be personal to him as his seat is upgraded for him. Elahi also used his position to change the status of his brainchild Rescue 1122 as a department, he said. Earlier, the rescue organisation was a body under the home, health or S&GAD departments. There is also news of appointments in the PA ignoring merit, he pointed out.

He asked if the Lahore High Court and the Punjab Services Tribunal and others could be special institutions, why couldn’t the PA be.

In an unprecedented move, the Punjab governor through an ordinance curtailed certain powers of the Punjab speaker besides making the prime provincial legislature a subordinate to the law department.

Secretary to the Punjab Assembly Muhammad Khan Bhatti will now report to the secretary law, a grade 20 or 21 officer.

The officer further disclosed that the Bank of Punjab, Lahore High Court, office of the Advocate General, Accountant General Punjab, office of the Punjab ombudsman, Punjab Land Commission, Punjab Pension Fund, Punjab Public Service Commission, Punjab Service Tribunal, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) and Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission and some others are also special institutions of the provincial government.

It is to be recalled that there was a deadlock between the government and the speaker on certain issues – including summoning the chief secretary and the IGP to the assembly. Speaker Elahi was of the view that the police had misused its authority by acting against the lawmakers in the assembly chamber. Moreover, the police had also acted on the government’s orders against the opposition members and other peaceful marchers. However, CM Hamza-led government remained adamant.

A lawyer Asghar Ali questioned the governor’s act, saying that when the session was not prorogued by the speaker who called it how, then, can the governor do it. He said that the court should guide on the point of whether the governor has acted in furtherance of democracy or to reverse it. He said that, prima facie, it seemed that the governor has imposed democratic martial law. It is quite astonishing that the Punjab Assembly would be administered by the secretary of law, a bureaucrat. He called two parallel sessions of the Punjab Assembly an unfortunate move.

Ali said that both CM Hamza and Speaker Elahi have played the blame game, calling the other side’s acts unconstitutional.

Muhammad Sadiq, a political activist while criticising PML-N spokesperson Ataullah Tarar’s indecent gesture towards the speaker, said that the powerful show the middle finger to the law and are rewarded. However, following the backlash, Tarar apologized for his offensive act. Sadiq further said that CM Hamza not allowing the CS and IGP to respond to speaker Elahi’s summons also raised questions on the sanctity of the prime legislative body of the province. Above all, the governor’s entry with ordinances when the house was in session shows that all is not well in democracy here, he deplored.

Javed Iqbal is a special correspondent covering the Punjab government with a particular focus on bureaucracy. He has unearthed a number of mega scams while working with leading media houses. He tweets @javedjahangiri and can be reached at javediqbal344@gmail.com.

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