Islamabad : We may have been living in Imran Khan’s promised ‘Naya Pakistan’ since his party, PTI, took the reins of the government in the centre more than a year ago but nothing is new at the national health services ministry.
Tasked with improving health system governance in the centre in the post-devolution regime, the ministry continues to be plagued by ad-hocism.
From the minister to the secretary to the director-general, none of the NHS ministry’s top bosses is a regular appointee and even over two dozen organisations and programmes overseen by the ministry, including the federal capital’s major government hospitals, suffer from the ‘acting charge’ syndrome.
As US-based Dr Nausherwan Burki, who wields immense power at the ministry for being the premier’s cousin, is vigorously pushing on ‘health reforms’ in Islamabad, they all toe the line.
Unlike the other key ministries, the NHS ministry doesn't even have a state minister (junior minister).
Ironically, this ad hoc approach of those at the helm to the ministry’s management goes against the prime minister’s recent orders for the early filling of vacancies on a regular basis.
In the late week of June, the Prime Minister’s Office (Public) had formally apprised the Establishment Division of Premier Imran Khan’s ‘concern’ about the health ministry’s blatant noncompliance with his repeated instructions for regular appointments to the key vacant posts on priority.
The PM had also warned the then NHS secretary of punitive action over ad-hocism. Though the secretary was changed afterward, the temps continued to call the tune at the ministry.
If the Constitution is anything to go by, the health ministry is headed by a federal minister, an appointee of the prime minister from among parliamentarians.
However, its current head honcho is an unelected special assistant to the prime minister, Dr Zafar Mirza, whom the Constitution doesn’t consider a member of the federal cabinet.
Dr Zafar had succeeded MNA from Rawalpindi Aamer Mehmood Kiani in April PTI after the latter's unceremonious removal as the health minister over ‘corruption charges’ almost eight months after appointment.
Ironically, the BPS-22 office of the secretary, the ministry’s administrative head from among bureaucrats and the principal adviser to the minister on matters of policy and administration, is also held by a stand-in.
An additional secretary (BPS-21), Dr Allah Baksh Malik, has been occupying the coveted position on a temporary basis for over two months. He has faced many corruption and power overstepping inquiries???
Like his immediate boss, director general (health) Dr Assad Hafeez, too, is a temp, who has been holding the acting charge of the ministry’s top technical post for years despite facing the charge of illegal issuing ephedrine quota to two pharmaceutical companies.
After spending several months behind bars in the case, the BPS-20 officer secured his release on bail in by pledging his property to the trial court.
Besides holding the current charge of the DG’s office, Dr Assad also heads the Health Services Academy and Pharmacy Council of Pakistan and represents the ministry at the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council’s supreme decision-making body.
Some other ministry officers, too, hold the acting charge of their respective posts.
Noted among them is joint secretary (administration) Saeedullah Niazi (BPS-19), whose posting to the BPS-20 office under Section 10 of the Civil Servants Act, 1973, without him passing the mandatory senior management course has raised eyebrows.
Safi Malik, who is a Punjab government employees and heads the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, has been working in the ministry on deputation for six years.
The ministry has given away top positions of some key organisations and programmes, including foreign-funded ones, to own officials or deputationists as a ‘stop-gap arrangement’ instead of filling them on a permanent basis. Many of these appointees have got their contracts extended over the years against the rules to continue claiming fat salary and fringe benefits.
The permanent executive directors of PIMS and Polyclinic, the city’s major government hospitals, both from the administrative cadre, were recently removed to appoint their 'handpicked' interim successors either from the clinical cadre or on deputation.
Dr Amjad Mehmood of PIMS and Dr Shahid Hanif of Polyclinic were sent packing reportedly for resisting the plans conceived and executed by all-powerful Dr Nausherwan Burki to turn their hospitals into the medical teaching institutions, which have caused job insecurity among staff members.
Ironically, Dr Shahid Hanif’s successor, Dr Shoaib Khan, a deputationist from Punjab, got a three years service extension a few months before retirement in a questionable move by the ministry.
Dr Ansar Maxood, a BPS-20 officer from the dentistry department, holds the ‘look-after charge’ of the top PIMS slot despite having no administrative experience, a must for such posting, in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders.
The ministry has also been managing the top office of the National Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine on an ad hoc basis for a long time.
Besides, the National Institute of Health, the country’s leading public health organisation, is also headed by a deputationist, executive director Major-General Dr Aamir Ikram, who secured the key post in July 21, 2017, for one year but got extension in his deputation period for two more years under mysterious circumstances weeks before the last PML-N government completed term in office.
Carrying out diagnostic services, research, and production of biologicals for more than 40 years, the NIH has been awaiting a regular head for eight years exposing the ministry’s approach of ad-hocism towards its affairs.
Major-General Dr Aamir was recently given the additional charge of the Pakistan Health Research Council executive director’s post frustrating hopefuls from among senior staff members.
Things are no different at the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, which has seen only one regular head since its creation in 2012. Currently, the ministry instead of filling the vacancy on a regular basis has made a DRAP official the interim CEO.
The top positions at the regulator for medical and dental education and practice in the country, PMDC, are vacant due to the recent withdrawal of a presidential ordinance, which had led to the creation of the supreme decision-making body eight months ago.
Ad-hocism has also been reported in the ministry’s Coordination/Common Unit managing the Global Fund-financed national TB, AIDS and malaria programmes, Nutrition Wing, EPI, Pharmacy Council, National Institute of Population Studies, Pakistan Nursing Council, Human Organ Transplantation Authority and Directorate of Central Health Establishment.
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