News Analysis |
Bureaucrats of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) have created a deadlock by observing a pen-down strike on Friday against the arrest of Ahad Cheema by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) over corruption charges in the Ashiana Housing Society. A large number of senior PAS officers including divisional commissioners, deputy commissioner and assistant commissioners from all districts of Punjab gathered in Lahore on Friday to take part in a closed-door meeting called by the additional chief secretary of Punjab at the Government Officer’s Residence (GOR).
National Accountability of Bureau (NAB) arrested the former Director General (DG) of Lahore Development Authority (LHA) Ahad Cheema from at office on Wednesday. Ahad Cheema is a senior Grade-19 officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), formerly known as DMG group. He has served on many senior level positions including secretary higher education department (2009-10), DCO Lahore (2011-12), DG LDA (2012-16, in two terms) and currently the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Quaid-e-Azam Thermal Power (Private) Limited.
Two days after his arrest, the Establishment Division issued a notice promoting him to Grade-20 with immediate effect.
Two notices were issued to Cheema to appear before NAB for the investigation. NAB had made it clear in the second notice issued on 12th February that he would face consequences if he failed to appear. After the deadline was over, NAB arrested Cheema under Section 2 of the Schedule of NAO, 1999. Cheema is also expected to face further charges of having more assets than his income. Data obtained from his mobile phone may lead to further convictions. An accountability court on Thursday sent Cheema on a 14 day physical remand.
The arrest of Cheema created astonishment among bureaucratic circles as an officer of the PAS group is considered untouchable. A meeting was called immediately after the arrest of Cheema by the chief secretary of Punjab in the Darbar Hall of Punjab Civil Secretariat. A second meeting was called at the Civil Officer’s mess followed by a third one at the secretariat. A resolution was also sent to the Punjab chief minister expressing concerns over Cheema’s arrest.
“The administrative secretaries and divisional commissioners in the Punjab, in a meeting today (Feb 22), have expressed their serious concerns over the harassment and humiliation being meted out to the public servants in the province by brazen misuse of authority and gross abuse of discretion for extraneous considerations by the NAB functionaries in the Punjab.” The resolution stated further adding that such actions have caused deep anxiety and insecurity among the civil service.
The protest is over the treatment given to Cheema. He was taken to court in an armoured vehicle and his picture behind bars was released by the NAB. The Punjab cabinet called its first ever meeting to discuss the issue and decided to write a letter to the federal government to demand the supremacy of law in the province. The CM Punjab expressed deep concerns over Cheema’s arrest. The federal interior minister Ahsan Iqbal, after attending an event at the Lahore College for Women University on Friday expressed his concerns about the issue to the media.
Political experts have condemned the protest by Punjab’s civil service, saying that the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam, explicitly advised the civil servants to not become a part of politics and yet they are acting as political agents.
He said that NAB was trying to change the loyalties of politicians through its actions. The speaker of National Assembly, Ayaz Sadiq, while expressing his concern said to media on Friday, “I will appeal to the NAB chairman not to humiliate people in this manner. It appears as if NAB is giving a message to politicians and bureaucrats that they are the target.” He also said that it was unjustified to arrest Cheema during the investigation stage.
The question on everyone’s mind is that why has the arrest of a bureaucrat created such a huge uproar in Punjab. The chief minister Punjab is also nominated in the Ashiana Housing Society case and so is the principal secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad. Media reports suggest that Cheema was a highly corrupt bureaucrat with a god complex. He held a grade 20 job as a grade 18 officer and was considered untouchable. Arrest of such a powerful officer has created anxiety in the civil service that anyone can be held accountable.
It is suspected that Cheema will become an approver in the case and testify against other senior bureaucrats and the Punjab government ministers. Civil society and senior politicians including Imran Khan have strongly reprimanded the protesting bureaucrats. Khan also claimed that Cheema is a close accomplice of Shehbaz Sharif and his frontman in the corruption of mega projects in Punjab. He said that the strong response of Punjab government is in fear of what Cheema might expose to NAB.
Tomorrow I will be doing a press conference exposing the nexus of corruption between Shahbaz Sharif & the protesting bureaucrats who are petrified of what Ahad Cheema, SS’s front man, may expose about the mega scams in Punjab & other bureaucrats complicity also, to save himself.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 23, 2018
Utterly shameful how bureaucracy belonging to PAS has chosen to protest over accountability & arrest of Cheema, clearly SS’s front man. This union of the corrupt under ldrship of Godfather SS believes they are above the law. If they are innocent why shd they fear accountability?
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 23, 2018
Political experts have condemned the protest by Punjab’s civil service, saying that the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam, explicitly advised the civil servants to not become a part of politics and yet they are acting as political agents. Some have declared that the protest was a violation of the ESTA code for civil servants and strict disciplinary actions should be taken against them. Civil society activists demand that the atmosphere of impunity should end and everyone should be held accountable for their actions irrespective of the position they hold.