A digital secretariat

September 20, 2020

South Punjab’s new secretariat hopes to enable efficient governance in a historically underserved area. Paying close attention to the citizenry’s feedback will help it stay true to this goal

The South Punjab Secretariat in Multan.

The country’s first paperless secretariat, South Punjab Administrative Secretariat (SPAS) is expected to be fully operational from October 15, replacing the traditional paper communication with digital technology.

SPAS has sought help from the Punjab Information Technology Board in developing software for safe and secure electronic internal communication. According to Javed Akhtar Mehmood, the commissioner of the Multan division, SPAS will be operating through paperless communication and will have all necessary digital tools of communication at its disposal. “The Punjab government has done a great job of completing delegation of powers to SPAS,” he says.

He adds that it has been decided that the secretariat’s offices and the Government Officers Residences (GOR) will be built on Mattital Road in Multan over several acres of available public lands close to Women University Multan.

In its 34th session, the Punjab Cabinet amended the Rules of Business 2011, to give the South Punjab Additional Chief Secretary, Secretaries and Special Secretaries of respective departments complete autonomy and powers. The Rule 2, 3, 9 and their six clauses have been amended to delegate powers to SPAS.

Documents available with TNS reveal that Zahid Akhtar Zaman, the additional chief secretary of South Punjab has issued instructions for setting up offices of sixteen departments in south Punjab. Eight of these departments including Law, Home, Housing and Urban Development, Education Health, Police, Forest, Fisheries, Wildlife and Agriculture will be operated from Multan whilst S&GAD, Irrigation, Finance, Planning and Development, Board of Revenue, Livestock, Communications and Works and Local Government and Community Development will be operated from Bahwalpur.

At present, the Punjab secretariat has 58 departments, of these 16 departments have finally been shifted to south Punjab to run the newly-established secretariat.

“South Punjab actually deserves the shifting of at least half of the departments, 29 instead of 16. The Punjab government may shift 13 more departments in the future”, a senior bureaucrat at SPAS tells TNS.

Zahid Akhtar Zaman, the additional chief secretary of South Punjab has taken the initiative of introducing paperless communication to minimise public burden, prevent travelling fatigue and costs, and enable efficient and speedy resolution of issues faced by the citizenry. The smartphone technologies and laptops are the cornerstones of SPAS digital initiatives.

Enterprise communication enables ease in data sharing between co-workers. The public servants will be able to integrate charts, data sets, and other information with their emails, or video conferences ensuring that their colleagues receive essential work-related documents with ease. No longer will professionals have to hand-deliver, fax, or worse, mail important documents when working together.

According to Javed Akhtar Mehmood, the commissioner of the Multan division, SPAS will be operating through paperless communication.

Coworkers will be able to simply tell each other the digital location of a file, rather than having to share it themselves, expediting their workflow. Eliminating paperwork helps workers communicate more efficiently simply by removing the paper-trail they have previously had to deal with.

However, some beneficiaries have expressed reservations. Artistes in south Punjab are deeply concerned over the fact that the Information and Culture Department has not been moved yet and incorporated within the SPAS portfolio.

“We don’t feel a significant change in our professional life since the creation of the South Punjab Administrative Secretariat as we are still forced to approach the Lahore secretariat”, says Kosar Japani.

Japani is a singer by profession and heads the Wasaib Singer Forum in south Punjab.

“Saraiki artistes are an asset for this neglected region. Many of them live in Rohi or Cholistan deserts and are unable to approach the Information and Culture Department in Lahore to seek resolution of challenges they face. Some of them have died because of poverty [and lack of attention]”, she says.

She says that the Punjab government had announced a special corona financial assistance scheme for artistes during the lockdown and 7,000 artists had submitted their applications for assistance across the province. 3,500 applicants were from Lahore and the other half were from the remaining districts of the Punjab including eleven districts within Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions.

“The Information and Cultural Department in Lahore entertained financial assistance cases of artistes belonging to Lahore on a priority basis. The rest of artistes’ applications were entertained subject to availability of funds. Artistes living in south Punjab received only one installment of Rs 5,000 financial assistance”, she says.

The governance challenges in south Punjab demand attention and responsiveness. Whilst the incorporation of digital technology will make bureaucratic processes smoother and bring efficient governance to an underserved area, paying attention to citizenry’s feedback will help it stay true to these goals.

The writer is bureau chief of The News in Multan. He may be reached at trisign69@yahoo.com

A digital secretariat: South Punjab’s new secretariat hopes to enable efficient governance