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Conflict of interest bill has not many takers

November 02, 2013
Absence of the members of the provincial assembly and members of the provincial cabinet undermined the utility of the workshop. — File Photo
Absence of the members of the provincial assembly and members of the provincial cabinet undermined the utility of the workshop. — File Photo

PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s two proposed laws, including the draft conflict of interest act, came under scrutiny by members of the provincial bureaucracy at a daylong consultative workshop held here on Friday.

A number of participants belonging to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government departments and their attached wings, during the group work, expressed veiled criticism and objections to the proposed laws, particularly the draft conflict of interest law.

“What is the need of bringing one more law (conflict of interest) when you have service tribunals, provincial ombudsman, and National Accountability Bureau,” said a participant during the course of group discussion, adding, ‘it is a political effort meant to frighten public sector employees.’

A couple of them saw it unnecessary in presence of identical laws governing the provincial public sector employees.

There were a few, who thought the proposed conflict of interest law was a necessity that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the leading party in the provincial coalition government, wanted to introduce in line with its election promises.

The consultation was meant to explain the proposed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Public Services Act, 2013, and the proposed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Conflict of Interest Act, 2013, to elected representatives and members of the provincial bureaucracy.

The participants, divided into eight working groups, were asked to hold a frank and open discussion on the two proposed laws, identify gaps, and suggest improvements and amendments wherever they deemed fit in the two laws.

However, absence of the members of the provincial assembly and members of the provincial cabinet undermined the utility of the workshop.

The organisers had prepared the working group lists in advance with plans to divide the invited guests into eight groups.

However, the participants were less than the guests extended invitations. Even the chief guest, who was from among the members of the provincial cabinet, could not make it to the workshop as he left for his village.

“The MPAs and ministers spent a busy last week due to their involvement with the provincial assembly session, which ended on Thursday last,” said an organiser.

During the course of the group work, suggestions were made more as an obligation to complete the daylong exercise than out of motivation to fulfil the purpose for which the consultation was held.

Some of the participants expressed guarded reservations about the proposed laws in questions and comments during the opening session. Many among the officials present on the occasion were skeptical about the punishments and penalties recommended under the two laws.

A couple of senior functionaries, who ensured their presence in the opening session, tried to allay apprehensions in a candid way.

“We need to understand the spirit of the law, which is to ensure transparency,” said provincial Establishment Secretary Sikandar Qayyum.

He said the government had zero tolerance for corruption and the government employees had to be responsive to address public’s needs and grievances.

“We are to be part of the change,” he said.

The proposed conflict of interest law bars public officeholders from engaging in activities in conflict with their official position/office/post.

The proposed law underlines a long list of such activities that would be prohibited for the public officeholders.

It, if enacted, will prohibit public officeholders from accepting gifts and free travels.

The public officeholders will not be allowed to enter into contracts, become consultants, or use their official capacity to benefit their family members.

“It is humanly not possible, how it can be ensured in a society like ours,” asked an official during group discussion.

A few participants were more concerned about the ‘unbridled’ powers vested in the commission that will be set up under the conflict of interest law.

A participant wanted the proposed law to have a code of conduct for the commission.

Provincial Information Minister Shah Farman, who attended the opening session for a short time, termed the exercise of great significance.

He said the provincial government’s reform initiatives were important as they would realise Pakistan

Tehreek-i-Insaf’s vision and election manifesto.

“Our vision is to make rulers subservient to the people,” said the minister, adding that “civil servants and bureaucrats are very important to us and we see them with great respect, they are the ones who would turn our words into a reality.”

He said it was a unique opportunity for the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the new government had come with a new thinking that would make the change happen.