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Are partisan bureaucrats giving tough time to government in Punjab?


News Analysis |

On April 8th, 2019 local media reported that bureaucrats in Punjab are not comfortable to be answerable before Dr. Shahbaz Gill, a non-elected spokesperson of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. The report noted that bureaucrats are already under constant pressure and not taking part in matters relating to “recruitment, finances, and procurement to avoid questioning by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or courts.

“We want to know the legality, locus standi, of assisting Dr. Shahbaz Gill as ordered by the chief minister. He is neither a government official nor an elected representative of people. We have been grilled by NAB and courts even for our lawful actions. And many of us do not want to be held responsible for actions taken by or under direction by the worthy Mr. Gill,” a senior bureaucrat reportedly told the journalist.

The officer maintained that when there is no protection and the rule of law “then everybody thinks what the use is? Just push routine stuff and your salary … why take pains when the likely outcome would be discredit.”

Dr. Gill appeared in Live with Moeed Pirzada at GNN and not only rejected the report but also regretted that a reporter who claimed to approach bureaucrats for their opinion, did not contact Mr. Gill to incorporate his version of the story. Malik Ahmed Khan of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and spokesperson of former CM Punjab Mr. Shehbaz Sharif also pointed out that the said journalist should have contacted Mr. Gill to demonstrate a balanced and neutral approach.

Dr. Gill repeatedly clarified that he is legally appointed as a spokesperson to CM Punjab and the CM himself entrusts him with the responsibilities e.g. inspection but, says Dr. Gill, “I do not have any executive power. Nor I am an elected member of Punjab assembly”.

Read more: Can PM Imran Khan de-politicize bureaucracy?

It is important to note here that Prime Minister Imran Khan assured bureaucracy that there would be no longer any political intervention into their departmental affairs. However, some matters like the transfer of DPO Pakpattan and involvement of CM Punjab, and sudden transfer of Inspector General Punjab raise the eyebrow. “There is a dire need to fix the way the police works and to depoliticize bureaucracy. Merit needs to be brought in and laws need to be practiced in letter and spirit,” PM Khan said during his speech.

After the PM made it clear that political intervention shall not be tolerated bureaucracy in Punjab was hopeful to work independently.

Shahid Hussain, managing director of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority and president of the Provincial Management Services Association remarked that the bureaucrats will serve their posts legally. “We won’t be pressurized. The prime minister had categorically said that there will be no political interference in bureaucracy. We will follow what is written in the book and not exceed our mandate,” he stated months ago.

Now CM Buzdar is said to be in the driving seat but we see many other contenders of power like Governor Punjab and Speaker of the Punjab Assembly. This has confused bureaucrats.

GVS approached a senior bureaucrat to comment on the development and share his own experience under PTI government, “Treating workers as bad or corrupt kills Initiative and innovative thinking,” he said while maintaining that the pressure of NAB and judicial activism has badly affected the working of bureaucracy.

The officer maintained that when there is no protection and the rule of law “then everybody thinks what the use is? Just push routine stuff and your salary … why take pains when the likely outcome would be discredit.” He also believes that inexperienced ministers at the federal level are unable to work with the bureaucracy and bring out people-friendly policies.

Another bureaucrat who holds a key position in Punjab believes that bureaucracy, and particularly senior officers, are trained under Shahbaz Sharif rule, and want a Sharif-like model of governance and pattern of promotions. “Many senior officers are not happy to see PTI in Punjab. They are habitual to report former CM. Therefore, many of them are reluctant to accept Mr. Buzdar as their new boss,” he maintains.

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Political analyst and academic, Mr. G-M Pitafi spoke to GVS and argued that Punjab has become a complex place to govern at the moment. “There used to be only one-man show in the province. Now CM Buzdar is said to be in the driving seat but we see many other contenders of power like Governor Punjab and Speaker of the Punjab Assembly. This has confused bureaucrats. Who is the real boss?” asked Mr. Pitafi.

The article had input by Farah Adeed and edited by Sana Mushtaq.

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