Monday December 04, 2023

South Punjab Secretariat’s powers clipped even before its formal take-off

The secretaries of South Punjab departments have been made subordinate to the secretaries of their respective departments in Lahore

March 18, 2021
Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar.

ISLAMABAD: The South Punjab Secretariat, which was established in August 2020 as a major government initiative to address the sense of deprivation among the people of southern Punjab, has now been made a subordinate entity of the Lahore Secretariat.

“Perhaps the prime minister does not know, probably the Punjab chief minister also has no idea of what has happened but practically the provincial government has gone back on its promise in a big way,” an official source said.

In view of this huge U-turn, Additional Chief Secretary South Punjab Zahid Akhtar Zaman has already been posted out while the secretaries of South Punjab departments have been made subordinate to the secretaries of their respective departments in Lahore, informed sources say.

Previously, it is said, the secretaries of the South Punjab Secretariat were reporting to the chief minister directly through the Additional Chief Secretary South. The setting up of the South Punjab Secretariat was the PTI government’s political move to put up an alternative to the creation of a separate province in South Punjab. The new province was an election manifesto promise of the ruling party but it does not have the numbers in parliament to fulfill the promise.

Following high-level consultations, including deliberations at the prime ministerial level, it was decided to create a separate and independent office of Additional Chief Secretary (South Punjab), who would directly report to the chief minister. Under the Additional Chief Secretary, South Punjab, a number of departments were created as a parallel set-up to the Lahore Secretariat.

The rules of business were amended accordingly and new departments were reflected in these rules. It was also decided that the South Punjab secretariat would be established with eight departments in Multan and eight departments in Bahawalpur. Accordingly, Zahid Akhtar Awan was posted as Additional Chief Secretary and Inam Ghani as Additional IG Police South Punjab in June 2020 followed by the appointment of secretaries of the newly created South Punjab departments.

The sources said that on Sept 17, 2020, the chief minister visited Multan and chaired a meeting of the South Punjab secretaries. The chief minister, in the same meeting, approved and unveiled the design of the new secretariat buildings to be constructed in Multan and Bahawalpur.

The South Punjab secretariat was waiting for the promised amendments in the rules of business to make it fully functional when all of sudden, the entire scheme of things was turned topsy-turvy last month. On February 21, 2021, different departments in Lahore issued a notification for the “delegation of power to South Punjab departments”. Through the said notifications, the South Punjab departments were delegated limited roles while the Lahore departments remained as the master departments.

“Some of the powers were delegated to the secretaries in South Punjab through a notification the same day,” a source said, explaining that the South Punjab secretaries were delegated low-level appointments but the appointment and transfer of officers in grade 19 and above were retained by the secretaries at Lahore.

“In order to further curb the independence and autonomy of the South Punjab secretariat, it was decided to roll back the departments of Finance, Planning and Services. The rules of business are now being amended to give effect to this new scheme of things,” the source said.

It is said that all of this is being done in the name of practical and legal difficulties even before the South Punjab secretariat could formally take off. According to a source, Additional Chief Secretary South Punjab Zahid Akhtar Awan was transferred for being disappointed by this unexpected reversal. The Punjab government has not yet appointed Awan’s replacement.

According to a Lahore secretariat official, because of the practical difficulties faced so far, the government has decided to delegate power to the South Punjab secretariat in phases.