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February 14, 2020

Govt prefers discretion over merit in lucrative foreign postings

Top Story

February 14, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The PTI government has seriously manipulated with the selection process for the appointment of Community Welfare Attaches (CWAs) in 17 capitals of the world to have a greater discretion than before in making these lucrative foreign postings.

Ministry of Human Resource and Overseas Pakistanis is struggling with the posting of Community welfare Attaches in 17 capitals of the world with sizable Pakistani community, for the last 16 months but the appointments have not yet been made.

Informed sources said that the matter of posting of CWAs to 17 countries is delayed because the ministry led by Zulfi Bukhari was finding it hard to balance between requirements of merit based policy notified by PML-N government in 2016 and the wishes of ruling political leaders some of whom allegedly wanted to give most lucrative stations to their choice officers.

Later, the 2016 policy was changed, new selection board headed by Zulfi Bukhari was notified, weightage of merit against discretion was reduced, provision of offering choice stations to successful candidates on the basis of merit was also done away with and new selection process was initiated but the appointments are still awaited.

The validity of the entire process is also in question, as Zulfi Bukhari has been made head of the Special Selection Board whereas the federal government had given an undertaking in the foreign nationality case against him that Bukhari is a special assistant to the PM and thus would not exercise powers and authority of a federal minister.

All such Selection Boards are headed by federal ministers.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Human Resource and Overseas Pakistanis when contacted asserted that the changes made in the selection process were aimed at ensuring merit and sending best available choice on a foreign station where best services are required. The spokesman said that all the changes in the selection process were made by the prime minister and the cabinet and there is nothing invalid in the entire process.

The spokesman also denied that there is any effort on anyone’s part to play with the merit in order to make these postings on political considerations. He said that the government is keen to make the right appointments for the greater interest of the country and its overseas Pakistanis. The spokesman lamented that in the Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE, we need the best available officers as CWAs but most of the officers want to go to the US and European stations.

The spokesman said that Zulfi Bukhari is heading the Special Selection Board following a decision from the prime minister and the cabinet. He agreed that although Prime Minister Imran Khan is also the minister for HR&OP, he has delegated his powers to Mr Bukhari to lead the selection process.

However, the sources insist that in view of the government assurance given to the SC, Zulfi Bukhari is not validly exercising all the powers and authority of a federal minister. The sources said that it is also against the rules of business.

Regarding the CWAs appointment, it is said that the policy notified in 2016 had taken away the prerogative of prime minister and federal minister to post selected officers to different cities. Rather the 2016 policy made it merit based and officers higher in merit had the “first cumulative first serve choice.” It means that the officers could choose the station of their liking according to his/her standing on the merit list.

The process for selection of CWAs was started in Jan 2019 on the directions of Zulfi Bukhari. Written test, which is mandatory as per policy notified by previous government was conducted by IBA Karachi. Only 11 officers passed the exam. Those scoring above 65 percent marks were called for interview and finally only four officers qualified.

Rather than giving them merit based choice of station they were offered places like Jeddah and Baghdad in a whimsical manner. The officers who had topped the process refused to accept the appointment and demanded that as per policy they should be given a choice for stations like London, Manchester and New York.

Ministry on directions of Zulfi Bukhari refused following which some of the officers had declined to accept while others including those who had qualified the written test but could not get any offer approached the Islamabad High Court.

The ministry spokesman said that because of the litigation there is a stay against seven CWA posts while one of the four officers selected in the initial selection process has accepted the offer and may join the assignment anytime.

Against the remaining posts, the selection process was initiate afresh. Now weightage of marks of test by external agency (LUMS or IBA) reduced to 60 from 80 thus giving more discretion to interview. The original policy did not allow any minimum qualifying marks for interview. The PTI government changed it to 50 percent minimum marks for interview to qualify.

So theoretically a person securing highest marks in written test by LUMS or IBA can be kept out by giving him less than 50 percent in interview, a source said, adding that these changes gave to “men” in interview panel play with the merit for bringing their favorites up and elbowing our people who otherwise qualify on merit.

Secondly, it is said, with 40 percent weightage given to interview the selection board would decide the station of posting for their favorite candidates and calibrate the interview marks accordingly. The spokesman for the ministry, however, said that now the government can post any of the successful candidate in any foreign station of government’s own choice.

The spokesman said that the appointment of CWAs as per the second selection process will be done in the future. He said that the summary seeking CWAs appointment will be approved by the prime minister and the cabinet.