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Saturday January 22, 2022

Murree musical chairs

January 15, 2022
Murree musical chairs

ISLAMABAD: The musical chairs mode of governance is the root cause of the Murree tragedy. The hill station has seen eight assistant commissioners, six deputy commissioners and five commissioners in the last three years.

Referring to the debate within the social media groups of civil servants, a senior government official told The News that no bureaucrat could deliver if he is not allowed to serve on a particular post for a reasonable tenure of three to four years. But in the case of Punjab, officers are transferred in months which is the major reason for inefficiency and bad governance.

Many senior officers commented that for a sensitive and challenging position like the AC Murree-- who heads the tehsil administration and is responsible for relief and rescue operations in case of a calamity or accident-- three things are most important: appointment on merit, gilt edged professional integrity and a steady and stable tenure.

Once appointed on merit after due diligence, it is crucial that an officer is given complete confidence that he will have security of tenure. The administrative wisdom in the policy of three- to four-year tenure is that officers get well acquainted with the people, terrain, culture, problems and their administrative and departmental colleagues and teams.

However, like all districts and departments of the province, the government of Punjab has been reshuffling assistant commissioners of Murree very frequently. Since July 2018 when the PTI government led by Chief Minister Buzdar came to power, eight assistant commissioners of Murree have been transferred; the average tenure of an assistant commissioner comes to just five months, as opposed to a policy which ordains a minimum of three years.

The eight assistant commissioners transferred in quick succession since July 2018 were Adnan Afridi (July 2018-Oct 2018), Imtiaz Khichi (Oct 2018-June 2019), Izhar Bajwa (June 2019, transferred after one week), Ahmad Ranjha, (June 2019-Dec 2019 in the middle of the snow season), Zahid Hussain (Dec 2019- Oct 2020), Waqar Hussain (Oct 2020- Jan 2021--transferred in the midst of the snow season), Muhammad Iqbal (Jan 2021-Oct 2021), Umer Maqbool (Oct 2021-today). The incumbent AC was appointed only three months back.

According to senior civil servants, such an administrative modus operandi is filled with risks, and can result in more tragedies. How do you expect an officer appointed two months prior to the snow season to measure up to the challenge, they asked.

This ‘trigger happy’ policy of frequent transfers is not restricted to successive assistant commissioners Murree. Six deputy commissioners and five commissioners of Rawalpindi have been transferred by the PTI government in three years and four months, bringing the average tenure of a DC and commissioner Rawalpindi to six-and-a-half months and eight months respectively.

The six DCs transferred in quick succession were Dr Omer Jahangir, Ali Randhawa. Saifullah Dogar, Capt Anwar Ul Haq, Amir Aqiq and the incumbent Muhammad Ali. The Rawalpindi division administrative leadership shuffled between Capt Saif Anjum, Jaudat Ayaz, Capt Saquib Zafar, Capt Mahmood, and Gulzar Shah.

Murree has been one of the most important subdivisions (the basic unit of administration) not only in Pakistan but in the Indian subcontinent, even prior to independence. It was established in 1853, when the British created a civil administration in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Lt Pearce was the first British sub divisional magistrate (SDM/AC) of Murree. Most outstanding officers of the Imperial Civil Service (ICS) were posted as SDM/AC of Murree by the British.

Even after independence, the best and most competent and industrious CSP/DMG officers were appointed as assistant commissioners of Murree. Often, assistant commissioners of Murree were appointed after an interview by the chief minister, governor and occasionally by the president/prime minister. Since foreign heads of states and visiting dignitaries would often visit Murree, the AC Murree had to keep a close liaison with the federal government.

According to sources, after independence two illustrious Punjab civil service officers, Malik Karam Dad Khan and Faqeer Syed Siraj Ud Din, were appointed assistant commissioners of Murree in 1947 and 1948. The first CSP officer to be posted as AC Murree was Muhammad Raza.

Famous CSP/DMG officers who remained AC Murree and went on to become chief secretaries were Ajlal Hussain, M S Chaudry and Hafeez Akhtar. Many officers who made their initial mark as AC Murree, became federal secretaries, including G Yazdani Malik, A R Siddiqi, Khalid Javed, Muzzafar Qadir, Dr Arif, Zafar Altaf, Abu Shamim Arif, Shafquat Ezdi Shah, Tariq Farooq, Sibtain Fazle Haleem, Arshad Mirza, Imtiaz Inyat Illahi, and Kh Zaheer Ahmad who had one of the longest tenures as AC Murree. The incumbent Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood also once served as AC Murree.

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