All is not well between country’s two top offices

December 30,2008

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is in a defiant mood and wants to run the government as the real chief executive, it is learnt.

Informed sources in the government told this correspondent that Gilani is running out of patience over the increasing interference of the presidency in the day-to-day running of the government due to which differences between the top two offices of the country have already cropped up.

These sources said that of late Prime Minister Gilani has raised a hue and cry over British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s joint press conference with President Asif Ali Zardari during the former’s recent visit to Pakistan. Gilani insisted that the protocol demanded that such a press conference should have been addressed by the two prime ministers.

Farhatullah Babar, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) spokesman and media adviser to the president, however, maintained that the reports of differences between the presidency and the prime minister’s office are mere speculation by the media. But sources insist that things have gone bad between the two. “I contradict all such reports,” Babar told this correspondent.

The sources, however, said that it was also the consequence of the tension between the two offices that three key bureaucratic positions directly associated with the prime minister remain unfilled despite the lapse of several days. These include the principal secretary to the prime minister, the secretary establishment and the secretary cabinet. All these three top secretaries serve under the prime minister and report to the chief executive directly.

The former principal secretary to the prime minister Siraj Shamsuddin, who was considered President Zardari’s close confidante, was recently relieved of his post and appointed the country’s executive director in the Asian Development Bank. A PM Secretariat source claimed that Siraj was pushed out of the PM Secretariat because Gilani was not comfortable with him. It is said that on one occasion Gilani was so angry with his former principal secretary that he tossed an official file, which Siraj wanted him to sign, hitting the wall of his office.

The file, it is said, contained the case of re-appointment of sacked employees. The issue of re-appointment of thousands of political appointees of Benazir Bhutto’s second regime is being pressed by the Presidency but Prime Minister Gilani is reluctant to do any thing that might land him in trouble later on. This very issue, it is said, was the first major point of difference between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.

According to sources, Gilani even in a cabinet meeting expressed his reservations about the en-bloc reinstatement/re-appointment of the sacked political appointees of the last PPP regime. The objective, though apparently approved by the cabinet, is still far from being realised to the satisfaction of the presidency.

Siraj was the choice of President Zardari as principal secretary to the Prime Minister Gilani. But now Gilani wants principal secretary of his choice and for this he has already asked some of his friends to suggest him names of some talented bureaucrats for the high profile bureaucratic slot.

After the departure of Siraj Shamsuddin, the office of the principal secretary to the PM is currently held by Nargis Sethi, the additional secretary PM Secretariat till the appointment of regular principal secretary.

Similarly after the sudden removal of secretary cabinet Ghiasuddin and his namesake secretary establishment Ghiasuddin Ahmed a few weeks back, both the key positions of the civilian bureaucracy remain vacant till now. The two Ghiasuddins were removed in a late night order issued by the prime minister amid unconfirmed reports that these officers were in direct contact with the presidency and used to get orders from there. Both the cabinet and establishment divisions are presently headed by their respective additional secretaries on acting charge basis.

A source close to the prime minister said that Gilani is uncomfortable with two presidential aides — Salman Farooqi, the principal secretary to the President, and Dr Qayyum Soomro, President’s special assistant. Recently he got angry with Farooqi on the issue of bureaucratic changes. The prime minister also does not appreciate Dr Qayyum’s tendency of contacting all and sundry in the government and giving them instructions bypassing the prime minister’s office.

Sources close to the prime minister said that Gilani does not mind taking the president into confidence even on matters that fall in his exclusive jurisdiction but he is uncomfortable with too much interference of the presidential aides.


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