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Why meritocracy suffers when democracy flourishes?

"Astonishingly, just one day before the convening of the meeting of the high-powered board, the federal cabinet, under the chair of Shehbaz Sharif, repealed the Civil Servants (Directory Retirement from Service) Rules, 2020."

The Civil Servants (Directory Retirement from Service) Rules, 2020 were framed by the outgoing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government to root out corrupt officers and deadwood from bureaucracy. It was, arguably, landmark legislation to bring efficiency into the top hierarchy and to eliminate inefficient officers from payrolls as well.

Though the PTI government could not finalise its much-trumpeted civil services reforms, its directory retirement policy was lauded widely and also upheld by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) when some officers challenged it there.

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It would be relevant to mention here that the directory retirement policy was devised by the Imran Khan government to compulsorily retire corrupt, incompetent officers who had completed 20 years of service.

Background talks to officers reflect that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif held a meeting of the high-powered board for the promotion of officers of BS-21 to 22 belonging to Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) on May 18, 2021. Those facing corruption and blue-eyed bureaucrats were also promoted. Many say it was an utter disregard of merit.

Afzal Latif, the then secretary of establishment, who was posted there by the Imran Khan government, was also removed just 10 days before convening the meeting of the board because he refused, as his close aide claimed, to serve the designs of the incumbent regime.

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Astonishingly, just one day before the convening of the meeting of the high-powered board, the federal cabinet, under the chair of Shehbaz Sharif, repealed the Civil Servants (Directory Retirement from Service) Rules, 2020. It also decided to stop disciplinary proceedings that could hinder their promotions. The main purpose, as sources claimed, was to favour Dr. Syed Tauqir Shah, presently posted as Principal Secretary to PM, against whom disciplinary proceedings were at an advanced stage. He was also nominated in the Model Town massacre case. There are more than a dozen officers of BS-21 – who were ineligible to remain in BS-21 and were sent packing – have now been made eligible, even for the promotion to BS-22. According to the government’s rules and traditions, an officer involved in a severe criminal case has to be placed under suspension.

This high-powered board meeting has played havoc with the career of clean and upright officers who could not serve political leaders, an officer said.

Rashid Mansoor, who also failed to comply with the Establishment Division’s policy to serve in the federal government in grade 21, has been promoted to BS-22. Sources said that he was rewarded for initiating a note against PTI governor Omer Sarfraz Cheema. He was also obliged to continue to serve in Punjab in grade 22.

The officers who were twice rejected by the high-powered board for promotions and were to be sent home were promoted. They included Dr Rashid Mansoor, Dr Syed Tauqir Shah, Ismat Tahira, Bushra Aman, and Zulfiqar Haider Khan.

Sources further say that Imdadullah Bosal, whose number stands at 48 on the seniority list, who had served as principal secretary with then chief minister Shehbaz and faced NAB inquiry, was also promoted. Sarah Saeed and Jawad Paul, whose names stand at seniority numbers 45 and 46 respectively, have also been promoted to BS-22 as they are said to be close to Dr Shah. There were 18 BS-22 seats and they were favoured even when more than 45 officers were senior to them.

Many of those officers such as Mohsin Mushtaq Chandana (at number 5 on the seniority list), Saeed Nawaz (at number 15 on the seniority list), and dozens of other officers who have unblemished records have been penalised for their honesty to favour blue-eyed officers.

Sources also revealed that Dr Iftikhar Ali Shalwani, Dr Muhammad Usman Chachar, Eazaz Aslam Dar and Naveed Sheikh were promoted on the PPP quota.

Thus, the reforms introduced by the PTI government, by way of enacting Civil Servants (Directory Retirement from Service) Rules, 2020, have been reversed in whole by the PML-N-led regime.

For these reasons, the high-powered board considered Dr Syed Tauqir Hussain Shah eligible for promotion while the same officer was declared ineligible for promotion to BS-22 by the same high-powered board in October 2020. Shah had got posting only for a week during the last three and a half years as additional secretary incharge health (March 4 to March 11. 2020). On the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s protest, Dr Shah’s foreign posting in WTO was also withdrawn by the PTI government.

It is now settled that subjective assessment by a public authority must rest on open and transparent objective criteria. In the instant case, the Civil Servants (Promotion to the BS-22 or Equivalent) Rules, 2020 have been applied just to favour individuals who had served with Shehbaz Sharif as a principal secretary when he was the chief minister of Punjab. To avoid litigation some others have also been promoted. However, an officer who was rejected by the board for promotion said that he, after consulting others, would challenge the high-powered board’s recommendations.

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