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April 9, 2021

Disempowerment of S Punjab secretariat: Punjab cabinet panel had approved withdrawal of powers, functions

National

April 9, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The standing committee of the Punjab cabinet on legislative business had, after comprehensive deliberations, approved the controversial notification that had jettisoned the empowerment and autonomous status of the South Punjab Secretariat.

The scrapped notification, issued on September 11, 2020, had established and listed in detail the powers and functions of the South Punjab Secretariat.

The minutes of the 51st meeting of the standing committee, available with The News, show that the new notification, cancelling the previous one, was vetted by the law and parliamentary affairs department for the withdrawal of amendments in the Punjab Government Rules of Business, 2011.

The standing committee considered and approved the proposals pertaining to the abolition of the September 11, 2020 notification subject to the ratification of the decision by the Punjab cabinet, the minutes said.

The forum had also approved another notification to insert certain amendments in the rules regarding the South Punjab Secretariat. It had been cleared by the law and parliamentary affairs department.

According to the minutes, the secretary of the implementation & coordination (I&C) of the services & general administration department (S&GAD) briefed the standing committee that the Punjab government has decided to establish a secretariat in South Punjab to facilitate the public of the region and provide access to concerned officials in a convenient manner.

For this purpose, the minutes said, amendments in the rules of business were notified on September 11, 2020 and published on September 15, 2020. Subsequent amendments were also placed before the Punjab cabinet for consideration. However, it was observed that there remained certain unaddressed issues that could lead to legal and administrative complications in the functioning of the South Punjab Secretariat. The draft amendments, therefore, required detailed deliberations to identify and address any anomalies. The cabinet, in its 40th meeting held on January 25 2021, referred the matter to the standing committee on legislative business for further review.

The minutes said the matter was reviewed in consultation with relevant departments and various amendments were proposed in the rules of business in order to ensure the smooth functioning of South Punjab Secretariat and minimise administrative and legal issues.

The amendments defined the South Punjab Secretariat, its departments, secretaries, and additional chief secretary (ACS).

They also covered the functions of the ACS and secretaries and departments in the South Punjab Secretariat relating to agriculture, communications and works, environment protection, forestry, wildlife and fisheries, higher education, housing, urban development & public health engineering; irrigation, livestock & dairy development, local government & community development, population welfare, primary & secondary healthcare, revenue, school education, social welfare & the baitul maal, and specialised healthcare & medical education.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who hails from South Punjab, has recently talked about a conspiracy that resulted in the drastic curtailment of powers and functions of the South Punjab Secretariat. To register his reservations, he held a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and later said that the conspiracy has been frustrated. He said that he was abroad on an official tour when the notification that had scrapped the powers of the South Punjab Secretariat was sent to him by someone, and he was most disturbed to learn about it.

Apart from Qureshi, all federal and Punjab ministers from South Punjab had recorded their strong protest against the withdrawal notification that had rescinded the original September 11, 2020 notification. As a result of this agitation, the Punjab government withdrew the new notification and formed a ministerial committee headed by Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht, brother of federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar, to devise new rules for the South Punjab Secretariat.