A question of governance

December 8, 2019

Analysts aren’t convinced that a major bureaucratic reshuffle was the best way to handle mismanagement and incompetence

— Photo by Rahat Dar

Last week, amidst accusations of inaction and inefficiency, the Punjab government changed the entire top bureaucracy in the province. This was the government’s second major bureaucratic reshuffle within a month.

Prime Minister Imran Khan explained to the media that the most credible names had been picked for chief posts. But most analysts are not convinced that reshuffle is the way to handle mismanagement and incompetence in bureaucracy.

“After having consulted with bureaucrats, officers of the Establishment Division and retired bureaucrats, Usman Buzdar and I succeeded in finalising the changes. People who have knowledge about bureaucracy know that the best available officers have been selected. This includes Major (retd) Azam Suleman as the chief secretary and Shoaib Dastagir as inspector general of Punjab Police,” the PM said.

Ironically, many of the newly appointed bureaucrats were the blue-eyed boys of the former chief minister Mian Shehbaz Sharif. They held key management positions in mega projects like the Multan Metro, Nandipur Power Project, construction of underpasses in different cities, and the Orange Line Metro Train, etc.

Major (retd) Azam Suleman, the new CS, remained the secretary of the most lucrative provincial department — Communication and Works (C&W) — for five years, under Sharif. Despite being promoted to Grade-22 (the highest attainable rank), he was retained by Sharif as the additional chief secretary (ACS), Home Department, for five years — the longest tenure ever served by a bureaucrat.

Interestingly, the man now considered the best to lead the bureaucratic team was blamed at that time by the PTI for the 2014 Model Town massacre.

Interestingly, Major (retd) Azam Suleman, the man now considered the best to lead the bureaucratic team, was blamed at that time by the PTI for the 2014 Model Town massacre.

Moreover, the now-declared most capable lot of bureaucrats remained on the receiving end of the prime minister’s constant criticism during Sharif’s rule. He used to call them “the frontmen of Shehbaz Sharif who has spent Rs 9,000 billion in nine years, thanks to these bureaucrats!”

The newly appointed bureaucrats have been awarded prize departments that include Finance, Health, Livestock, Higher Education, Lahore Development Authority, Rawalpindi Development Authority, Home, Planning and Development (P&D), Communication and Works (C&W), and Board of Revenue.

A number of former principal staff officers (PSOs) of Shehbaz Sharif have also been brought back in pivotal administrative posts.

Analyst Suhail Warraich does not buy the PM’s statement regarding careful headhunting with Chief Minister, Usman Buzdar, on board. Talking to TNS, he says, “Buzdar has no role at all in this development. I’m sure it is as unexpected for him as [it is] for us.

“Nevertheless, the prime minister has definitely consulted the ‘real power centre’ to some extent, in his selection of names and departments.”

Warraich believes that the reshuffle has brought uneasiness to the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q as well as the CM. “Four senior officers including the principal secretary to the CM, and commissioners of Lahore, Dera Ghazi Khan and Sargodha have been asked to report to the Establishment Division as OSDs (officers on special duty). All of them were Buzdar’s favourites,” he adds. “Strangely, the PML-Q, which is an important part of the provincial and federal governments, has been completely ignored this time.”

It is also believed that an upper hand has been given to the DMG (District Management Group) or CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) over the PCS (Punjab Civil Service) cluster, which has escalated the existing tension between them.

Journalist Anwar Hussain Sumra says that most PCS officers have either been transferred to remote districts, or they have been given such assignments that would ultimately broaden the gap between the said clusters.

Former caretaker chief minister Najam Sethi calls the reshuffle “unprecedented.” He tells TNS, “The obvious reason behind this approach is the prevalence of bad governance all around. Imran Khan believes this kind of postings and appointments can bring drastic change in governance. As for me, I think this cannot be done without providing a good leadership.”

Relying on generally credible sources, Sumra claims that the prime minister has formed a committee that is headed by the chief secretary; the IG will also be a part of it. “The committee won’t only chalk out future projects but will also be responsible for the finances, administration, law and order, and other administrative matters.

“Importantly, the committee will directly report to the PM, and execute plans with his approval.”

He insists that this will not change Usman Buzdar’s official status, and he would continue to fulfill his duties as the symbolic chief executive of the province.

In the parliamentary form of government, a bureaucrat gets trained for the management responsibilities, as vision comes from the chief executive or political leadership. The concept of parliamentary form of government becomes defective if the vision is to come from bureaucracy. As Suhail Warraich puts it, “I have no doubt that the top political hierarchy of the Punjab is incapable of providing ‘vision’. Without a visionary leadership, it is a great challenge to bring about any change, despite your most competent team.

“If the bureaucracy tries to keep the elected parliamentarians out of determining the policies that influence public life, such an approach will create panic amongst the ruling party’s MPAs as well as their coalition partners.”

The writer is a staff member and can be reached at [email protected]

Reshuffle in Punjab: A question of governance