Tuesday June 25, 2024

Ahad Cheema’s arrest: Bureaucracy protest locks down Punjab

By Moayyed Jafri & Ziaullah Niazi
February 24, 2018

LAHORE: Confusion prevailed among the bureaucrats over the arrest of Ahad Cheema as difference of opinion was visible on future line of action – whether to go for a confrontation with NAB, continue with pen-down strike or opt to legal course – when they gathered at the Civil Officers Mess GOR-I Friday The News has learnt.

They could not reach a conclusion and decided to meet again on Saturday morning (today). On the other hand, the PAS [Pakistan Administrative Service] officers observed a pen-down strike to record their protest against the arrest. Official work in the Civil Secretariat and other offices remained suspended in the province, causing inconvenience to public. However, routine work continued at the offices where the PMS [Provincial Management Service] officers are working as they had categorically refused to take part in the pen-down strike.

The officers from PMS showed serious reservations over the PAS’s stance, with the view that they would not accept any verbal order regarding the pen-down strike or protest and needed a written notification from the chief secretary’s office.

Their spokesman said a meeting was held between the PAS and PMS representatives to address the deadlock. The PAS delegation was headed by Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) Umar Rasul and comprised Higher Education Commission Secretary Nabeel Javed Awan and others. PMS Officers Association was represented by its president Shahid Hussain, general secretary Naveed Shahzad Mirza and former president Rai Manzoor Nasir. The meeting was concluded without agreeing on any actionable agenda, however, it was decided they will reconvene today (Saturday) to further deliberate the on the matter.

Earlier in the morning, around 150 senior and junior officers of PAS and a few of PMS, reportedly pressurised by the PAS bosses, attended the meeting called by the ACS. Some of the officers were very emotional and of the view that they should take strong stance over the arrest of their colleague. They delivered emotional speeches and emphasised on giving a strong message to both provincial government and NAB. Beside the pen-down strike, strict steps should be taken to register their concern over the illegal arrest of Cheema.

However, senior officers present in the meeting opposed pen-down strike and advised against locking horns with the NAB. They stressed on adopting legal course instead of aggression and said Cheema’s arrest had created sense of insecurity among civil servants, but the issue should be handled sensibly. They, however, stressed that the provincial government should take a clear position about the NAB.

Meanwhile, the majority of those attending an earlier meeting on Thursday were surprised by the pen-down strike as no such decision was taken at the earlier meeting.

A senior officer, on the condition of anonymity, said in Thursday’s meeting, it was decided to adopt legal course over the issue. He disclosed that a group of PAS officers close to Cheema on late Thursday night somehow managed to convince the chief secretary and the additional chief secretary in favour of the pen-down strike.

On the other hand, the Punjab cabinet on Friday decided to immediately approach the federal government on the issue of illegal arrest of Cheema and to ask it for playing a role to ensure supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

The meeting chaired by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the arrest was unwarranted and illegal, and the NAB had resorted to use the given powers illegally.

The chief secretary briefed the cabinet on Cheema’s arrest and said a sense of insecurity was prevailing among the officers as over 100 of them were appearing before NAB daily in various cases. He was of the view that this situation would affect the mega development projects and delay their completion.

The cabinet members said Cheema – a dutiful, hard working and honest officer of the Punjab government – was liked by many due to speedy and transparent preparation and completion of development projects – including those related to energy sector – in the province.

The cabinet said an effort was being made to create hurdle in completion of public welfare projects by inculcating fear among civil servants. They condemned such steps and said they were standing with the officers becoming target of injustice and discriminatory attitude.

The meeting also decided to discuss the matter in the Punjab Assembly and provide full moral and legal assistance to Cheema besides constituting a cabinet committee in this regard.

Separately, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told media person outside the Punjab Assembly that the manner in which Cheema had been arrested was highly objectionable and in violation of the NAB’s law.

“According to NAB’s law, an inquiry is held, and once there is plausible evidence, that report is presented to a board and then an approval is sought from the board to file a reference and based on that reference the court is moved for arrest warrants. Why was all this process was bypassed in Ahad Cheema case,” he questioned.

He said Cheema had responded to the NAB’s request for information and had asked for clarification regarding certain documents which were being demanded. Despite that, the NAB acted out on the basis of prejudice, which could have very dangerous repercussions, he warned.

Rana Sana said the bureaucracy had written a letter to the Punjab government that they were not willing to work in the current circumstances The law minister said it was highly likely that a resolution would be tabled in the Punjab Assembly on Monday pleading to the federal government to ensure that the NAB – a federal department – acted according to the law and within their legal and constitutional premise and how they defined its procedures. The NAB chairman would also be formally requested to look into the matter, he added.

On the other hand, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, talking to journalists, said the NAB was apparently not doing its job and stressed that there should not be any kind of confrontation among the institutions.

Similarly, Punjab Governor Rafique Rajwana said the NAB should not act without fulfilling legal requirements and ensure human dignity. News desk adds: There are media reports that the offices locked by the protesting bureaucrats were reopened late Friday night on the chief minister’s orders.