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No legal cover for parliamentary secretaries

September 06, 2013

PESHAWAR, Sept 5: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has apparently pacified the treasury members by appointing them parliamentary secretaries through an executive order, but in the absence of any legal backing they might find it hard to do their job, said senior government functionaries.

In background discussions, the senior functionaries said that appointment of 32 parliamentary secretaries might create complications for the ruling coalition because no law existed concerning their appointment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The provincial government clarified on Tuesday that these parliamentary secretaries had been appointed to respond to different queries in the assembly in the absence of ministers concerned.

Well-placed sources said that the provincial law department had endorsed the executive order of the chief minister under compulsion as there was no option.

“Unlike Punjab no such law exists in the KP concerning appointment of parliamentary secretaries which is utterly illegal,” said one senior government functionary, adding that the chief minister could not issue order without legal backing.

He said that the provincial assembly procedure and conduct of business rules had defined “Parliamentary Secretary” as a member so appointed or designated by the chief minister under any law for the time being in vogue.

“The law is not available, that is why the chief minister appointed parliamentary secretaries through an executive order,” he said, adding that the Punjab government made the appointment of parliamentary secretaries through Punjab Parliamentary Secretaries (Salary, Allowances and Privileges) Ordinance, 2002. He said that under the said act, parliamentary secretaries in Punjab had been entitled to get allowances, official residences and other monetary benefits.

Officials dealing with parliamentary and legal matters said that appointment of seven special assistants in the province was also against the spirit of Constitution, especially after the 18th amendment.

An official said that the Constitution specifically stated that the chief minister shall not appoint more than five advisors, but Mr Khattak had inducted seven special assistants in violation of the Constitution.

By accommodating all the members of treasury benches on different positions, the incumbent chief minister has left behind his mentor Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao in political manoeuvring as previously he was known for heading the largest cabinet to save his government in 1994.

Mr Sherpao who had toppled Pakistan Muslim League government had accommodated around 40 MPAs of Pakistan People’s Party and political groups as provincial ministers, advisors, special assistants and parliamentary secretaries in then 83-member House. It was probably him who had introduced the posts of parliamentary secretaries in KP.

Mr Khattak, who was then also a minister and close aide of Mr Sherpao, went two steps ahead of his political mentor by accommodating the entire corps of treasury MPAs, including coalition partners in his cabinet. Mr Sherpao had appointed only two MPAs as parliamentary secretaries while Mr Khattak appointed 32 MPAs as parliamentary secretaries, taking the total strength of cabinet and allied offices to 59.

Information gathered by Dawn reveals that total strength of treasury members in the 124-member House is 77. The treasury comprises PTI, Qaumi Watan Party, Jamaat-i-Islami, Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan, All Pakistan Muslim League and one independent.

Few of them are more fortunate as they have been assigned two positions. For example, a provincial minister has also been assigned chairmanship of the lucrative District Development Advisory Committee (DDAC).

Another MPA from Shangla district appointed as parliamentary secretary was already designated as DDAC chairman. An MPA from Kohistan who joined PTI has been given the slots of advisor and DDAC chairman.

According to the current break-up of treasury MPAs holding various offices, there are 14 ministers, five advisors, seven special assistants and 32 parliamentary secretaries, while there are total 34 departments in the province. Moreover, many MPAs of the ruling coalition would also become chairpersons of standing committees. The provincial assembly speaker is yet to notify these committees.

Advisors and special assistants have been given the status of a minister enjoying all perks and privileges. Mr Khattak, who is his party’s central general secretary, holds around 10 portfolios, including home and tribal affairs. Under the law, a special assistant could not put signatures on summaries concerning official work and he or she has to send the same to the minister concerned. Besides, 18 MPAs of the treasury side have been appointed chairpersons of the DDAC with powers to recommend development schemes in their respective districts. Every DDAC chairman has been allotted one official car, 300 litres petrol per month, office in the district headquarters and monthly honorarium.

A PTI MPA from Kohat confirmed that the post of DDAC chairman in Hangu district had been kept vacant for MPA-elect Shah Faisal who joined PTI after winning by-election, but was yet to take oath.

Though Mr Khattak, who is often referred to by the PTI chairman as Malang CM, has yet to decide giving perks and privileges to the newly-appointed 32 parliamentary secretaries, insiders say that initially every parliamentary secretary would be entitled to an official vehicle and office. However, some officials pointed out that legal cover was still lacking.

“No doubt, every parliamentary secretary will have an official car and office. Mr Khattak has made the government a laughing stock,” lamented one insider in the PTI-led ruling coalition government.