Thursday April 25, 2024

Punjab’s bureaucratic structure in a shambles

By Ansar Abbasi
March 23, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Punjab’s bureaucratic structure is in shambles largely due to the frenetic transfers and postings seen under the present administration that have turned bureaucrats into rolling stones.

While six chief secretaries and IGs of police have been changed and five officers have been posted as principal secretary to the chief minister, the situation in provincial departments and in the field is even worse.

One telling example of what is being dubbed by members of the bureaucracy in Punjab as ‘WhatsApp governance’ is that of the AC Kallur Kot in district Bhakkar where a staggering 14 Assistant Commissioners have been changed by the Buzdar government so far in the last two-and-a-half years!

According to sources, the mishandling of the bureaucracy in Punjab has simply ruined the bureaucratic structure of the province. It is said that no division, district or sub-division (tehsil) of the province is immune from these frequent changes owing to which there is complete lack of administrative effectiveness, a total absence of development and good governance at every level of government be it tehsil, district, division or province.

Sources say the solution the Buzdar government has come up with to address the discontent and grievances of MNAs and MPAs— that recently came to a head during the Senate elections—is being termed the ‘WhatsApp model of governance’ in Punjab.

The sources say that CM Buzdar has empowered his principal secretary Tahir Khurshid to simply transfer through a WhatsApp message any officer with whom an MNA or MPA is not happy. A senior civil servant acquainted with the state of affairs told The News: “Civil servants have now been relegated to the level of personal servants of PTI MNAs and MPAs.”

Sources say that the moment any field officer, especially of the level of AC, DSP, DC, DPO, tehsildar or local government official, expresses his inability to accommodate illegal or unreasonable demands, he is simply ‘WhatsApped’ out of the district or tehsil.

The principal secretary to the CM, who is required to balance the demands of politicians with the requirements and imperatives of good public administration and sound governance, has in this administration become the principal ‘executioner’ of any officer who refuses to bow down to the illegal or improper demands of MNAs, MPAs or the CM office.

“Only yesterday, a sixth commissioner has been appointed in the provincial headquarters Lahore,” a source said, adding that Capt. Usman who was DC Lahore for almost two years during the Shahbaz Sharif administration has been appointed commissioner. Prior to him, the officers who have been shifted from the commissioner Lahore position were Mujtaba Piracha, Capt Saif Anjum, Asif Bilal lodhi, Danish and Zulfiqar Ghumman.

Recently, the seventh commissioner of the PTI Punjab administration has been posted to Gujranwala. Previous commissioners in the division were Asadullah Faiz, Zahid Akhtar Zaman, Zulfiqar Ghumman, Sohail Ashraf and Gulzar Shah.

“The most extreme but telling example of ‘WhatsApp governance’ in Punjab is that of the AC Kallur Kot in district Bhakkar. Fourteen assistant commissioners have been transferred from the area since the PTI came to power in the last 32 months of the Buzdar administration.

Senior officers point out that the AC is the lynchpin of the administration and is the virtual CEO of the tehsil — the basic unit of administration. He serves as chief coordinator of all departments. He heads the land revenue administration and is also the collector of the sub-division and, since elected local governments have been dissolved by the PTI government, heads the municipal administration. The AC is also a focal point for natural calamities and crises like floods and locusts. In charge of law and order during Muharram, the AC also has to lead the dengue and polio campaigns.

In Kallur Kot, the first AC to be transferred within the first week of the PTI government was Kashif Jalil. The names and tenures of those who followed Jalil are Ghulam Mustafa Khan (three months), Kashif Nawaz (one month), Ghulam Murtaza (five months), Zahoor Hussain (two months), Anwar Ali (17 days), Imran Jaffer (six weeks), Muhammad Zubair (2.5 months), Sabir Hussain Shah (five months), Hafiz Abdul Manan (three months), Iftikhar Hussain Balouch (three months), Majid bin Ahmad (nine days), Hasan Nazir (three months) and Shabbir Ahmad posted on March 12, 2021.

Incidentally, the MNA from Kallur Kot is Sana Ullah Mastikhel. He has been a PML-Q MNA from 2002-2008, PML unification block MPA from 2008-2013, PML-N MPA from 2013 to 2018 and is now a PTI MNA from the same area.

Senior officers say that Kallur Kot is just one extreme sample case. In other areas, there may not be such a frequent number of changes but almost every tehsil and district in Punjab are witnessing a rapid turnover of officials.

A source said: “With the average tenure of an assistant commissioner being 2.5 months, what is happening today is worse than ‘Bacha Saqa raj’. He added: “This spells the death knell for any public administration,” and wondered who will be held accountable for the administration’s performance in revenue collection, municipal services and social services. With such a chaotic situation on the ground, any kind of administration doesn’t actually exist in Punjab for ordinary people, he lamented.