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August 28, 2018

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How transfer of official violates PTI manifesto, SC ruling

ISLAMABAD: The unceremonious transfer of the District Police Officer of Pakpattan, following pressure allegedly exerted by Khawar Maneka, the former husband of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife, is not only the first glaring violation of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) election manifesto and its commitment to uphold the rule of law - it also defies the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Anita Turab case.

Coming the day after a senior Pakistan Railways officer had refused to work under the new minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, after finding him “non-professional and ill-mannered”, the incident involving the DPO Pakpattan has seriously contributed to a growing sense of demoralization within the civil service, which had attached high hopes to Imran Khan’s government.

In its manifesto, the PTI had promised that it would depoliticize the bureaucracy, including the police service. The PTI had committed “tenureprotection of officers” and to assign “the right officer to the right job without any political consideration”. The PTI manifesto also pledged to introduce good governance and ensure rule of law.

Giving specifics about plans to improve the country’s policing, the PTI manifesto vowed: “We will enforce de-politicisation of police by building upon Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s successful police reform model, which will be replicated nationally.”

The PTI had noted: “Police in Pakistan is ill-equipped, poorly trained, deeply politicised, and chronically corrupt. Police reforms have been neglected by successive governments to continue using the force as a political tool.”

Although the PTI manifesto also promised to “professionalise police hiring and career management, ensuring no political influence on policing in all matters from hiring, posting, and transferring of personnel”, the Pakpattan incident violated every element of the PTI’s commitment.

The DPO of Pakpattan was reportedly transferred after the police had intercepted Khawar Maneka for over-speeding. According to media reports, police tried to stop Maneka at a checkpoint on August 23, but he did not pull over. They then chased his vehicle and managed to intercept it. Maneka allegedly misbehaved with the police.

The Punjab Chief Minister, Usman Buzdar, reportedly summoned DPO Rizwan Gondal on Friday and asked him to return to Pakpattan and apologise to Maneka. The DPO refused, leading to his removal from office.

The Inspector General (IG) of Punjab Police is reported by the media to have stated that the officer was transferred for making a false statement about police officials’ misbehaviour with a citizen. However, the IG did not deny that the “citizen” was Maneka.

According to a Geo News report, Maneka denied that he or any member of his family had been involved in any such incident. The DPO Pakpattan incident, as reported by the media, is also a blatant violation of the principles established by the Supreme Court in the Anita Turab case.

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled: “When the ordinary tenure for a posting has been specified in the law or rules made thereunder, such tenure must be respected and cannot be varied, except for compelling reasons, which should be recorded in writing and are judicially reviewable.”

In the same case, the apex court had also referred to the Hajj Corruption Case, wherein it was also held: “The normal period of posting of a government servant at a station, according to Rule 21 of the Rules of Business is three years, which has to be followed in the ordinary circumstances, unless for reason or exigencies of service a transfer before expiry of the said period becomes necessary in the opinion of the competent authority”.

The SC had reminded all and sundry that civil servants are public servants and, therefore, are meant to take decisions only in accordance with the law and in the public interest.

“In their capacity as advisors in decision making or as administrators and enforcers of law, they are not subservient to the political executive,” the Supreme Court said in its ruling on the Anita Turab case, adding that it is the obligation of government servants to remain compliant with the Constitution and law.

In the Anita Turab case, the SC laid down the following principles to safeguard the government servants from politicisation:

i) Appointments, Removals and Promotions: Appointments, removals and promotions must be made in accordance with the law and the rules made thereunder; where no such law or rule exists and the matter has been left to discretion, such discretion must be exercised in a structured, transparent and reasonable manner and in the public interest.

ii) Tenure, posting and transfer: When the ordinary tenure for a posting has been specified in the law or rules made thereunder, such tenure must be respected and cannot be varied, except for compelling reasons, which should be recorded in writing and are judicially reviewable.

iii) Illegal orders: Civil servants owe their first and foremost allegiance to the law and the Constitution. They are not bound to obey orders from superiors which are illegal or are not in accordance with accepted practices and rule of Constitution-based norms; instead, in such situations, they must record their opinion and, if necessary, dissent.

iv) Officers on Special Duty: Officers should not be posted as OSD except for compelling reasons, which must be recorded in writing and are judicially reviewable. If at all an officer is to be posted as OSD, such posting should be for the minimum period possible and if there is a disciplinary inquiry going on against him, such inquiry must be completed at the earliest.

The SC said that while it is conscious that the aforesaid matters relate to decision making and administration of the machinery of the State, "we have recognized the need for ensuring that decision making in relation to tenure, appointments, promotions and transfers remains rule based and is not susceptible to arbitrariness or absolute and unfettered discretion".

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