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September 20, 2019

Fear of persecution failing bureaucracy

Top Story

September 20, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The officer categorically refused. He was asked to let use his office address for the submission of Expression of Interest (EOI) proposals. They were being invited to outsource Rs5 billion microcredit scheme that Prime Minister Imran Khan intends to launch.

Initially, the Ministry of Finance was asked to carry out the selection process for a service provider capable enough to disburse these interest-free loans to the poor. It refused. Then Benazir Income Support Programme was asked. Itrefused too. The Ministry of Housing was third in the row. It agreed to do the needful, according to an insider of the present government.

The EOI proposals were to be invited at the first step to see which potential service provider will be the best to perform this task. An address was required to mention in the advertisement for delivering the applications from interested entities. The office of a BS-20 officer of the Ministry of Housing was chosen for the purpose.

As he was intimated about the decision, he refused to accept. Secretary Housing summoned him to convey the displeasure. The disobeying officer was also told that such acts could jeopardize his future promotion prospects as well. An officer unwilling to obey a minor task is useless and burden on the public exchequer, he was told.

“Shoot me in the head instead of threatening about promotion. Throw me out of the window. Do whatever you want to but I will not allow anybody using the address of my office for receiving applications,” the officer responded leaving his boss bewildered. “Tell me the reason of your refusal,” the secretary nevertheless insisted. “Sir, this relates to a project of Rs5 billion. Don’t put me in trouble,” the officer responded.

As the exchange of arguments continued, the secretary asked how come he would be in trouble for having no role in the project. The officer responded, “If any investigation is started in future about this Rs5 billion project, I will be unnecessarily implicated on the grounds that my office address was used for dropping the EOI proposals,” he replied.

The fear lurking in the officer’s mind was not groundless. It was based on the treatment given to bureaucrats, who were involved in mega projects initiated by PML-N government. Right from Fawad Hassan Fawad down to Ahad Cheema and bureaucrats assigned housing projects and clean drinking water schemes are either behind the bars or facing inquiries. In cases, NAB has failed to find any fault on their part in the projects, nevertheless, their imprisonment lingers on after the fabrication of others charges against them.

Learning lesson from the fate of such bureaucrats, the officers heading mega projects of the present government are being advised by their well-wishers to have themselves transferred to relatively low-key positions. “Whether it is my wife, brother, relatives and friends, all of them keep counselling me to request transfer,” said a federal secretary.

In a country like ours, nobody knows what happens and when, the secretary explained. “Today, Imran Khan is Prime Minister but we don’t know how long. Taking past practice a guide, as and when the next setup is installed it will start probing in order to sniff corruption,” he said adding that bureaucrats at key positions will be the first target.

Another senior officer echoed the same concern. Compared with Mian Nawaz Sharif, he explained, Imran Khan is more accessible to bureaucracy. He takes interests, does follow-ups but one thing he has been unable to do. Asked what? He has been unable to shed fears ingrained in the mind of bureaucracy, the officer replied. Although he admitted that PM has highlighted concerns of bureaucracy with reference to NAB and has promised to take corrective measures, nothing will change so long as this culture of fear prevails.

A federal secretary, renowned for his integrity, started writing in newspapers after retirement. His articles were full of insights offering policy prescriptions but they lacked bite. He was custodian of many secrets but was shy of revealing them. One day asked by The News as to why he doesn’t share full details, the reply was instructive: “Being in government service, we take many decisions. Nothing will happen if I remain silent. They will start digging in the past to search for something in order to implicate me when I become critical,” he said. Then he shared the story of a retired bureaucrat who is still facing NAB for a decision he took 20 years ago.

Sources close to NAB, however, rejected that the Bureau was haunting the bureaucracy, adding that a number of measures have been taken to allay concerns of Bureaucrats. They said that it has been decided that no official would be arrested at any stage unless it is proved that he has been benefitted financially. The sources said that NAB had been investigating thousands of cases but only a few cases were related to the bureaucracy.

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