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LAHORE: The dangling sword of repaying the hefty salaries given to them in the companies and authorities by Shahbaz Sharif’s government has terrified junior government officials, mainly belonging to the provincial service, who think their appointments and pay packages were lawful.

“If the salaries were illegal, these should be recovered from those who had sanctioned or offered them. We merely had legally applied for the jobs when they were announced against the salaries which were offered. We had not demanded any salary, and had not committed any crime,” an official said.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan has ordered the government officials in BS-17 and above who had worked in the 56 public sector companies mainly created by the Shahbaz government at salaries Rs300,000 and above to return the amounts, referring the matter to NAB for handling.

The Punjab Finance Department has in the meantime, reportedly notified withdrawal of the higher pay packages of government officials working in the companies or authorities with effect from Jan 1, 2018, allowing them their original salaries with a mere 20 per cent deputation allowance.

The move has reduced their salaries to lower than those of their colleagues working in the Civil Secretariat who are enjoying 50 per cent of their basic pays as Secretariat Allowance with effect from Jan 1.

Insiders said on Thursday all those who had got contractual appointments in the companies and corporations were being recalled to the Punjab government and given posts equivalent to their pay scales. They said court had sought details of those officials who were given hefty salaries by the Shahbaz government after their appointments in certain public sector companies he had created. But those at the helm of affairs forwarded names of all those on junior posts and even those working in authorities.

They said as per the latest calculations, 62 officials belonging to both the elite PAS (previously DMG) and PMS (Provincial Management Service) had been enlisted to repay around Rs630 million. A majority of them is nevertheless junior officials who had joined the short duration contract-based jobs in the companies and authorities for some economic relief.

The affected junior officials quote the constitution, different laws and their service rules to plead that their appointments in the companies or authorities were legal. There is a need to separate the grain from the chaff. The authorities concerned must recover the salaries illegally paid to anyone and not from all, they plead.

They say that everyone including civil servants have under Article 18 of the Constitution the fundamental right of profession. The jobs they held were properly advertised under the law.

They say the Punjab Government Contract Appointment Policy, 2004 allows the existing regular/confirmed government employees to work on a contract basis, also making the relevant selection committees to ensure that such appointments are made strictly on merit.

The same policy elaborates that the confirmed civil servants, when appointed on a contract basis in the government of the Punjab or its subordinate offices, organizations or institutions, shall draw pay and allowances as per terms and conditions of the contract.

It says the civil servants appointed on a contract shall not be deemed as civil servants (during their contract based job) but have a three-year lien with their parent departments. But this period would not serve towards their pensions, also depriving them of promotions or even backdated promotions if due in the meantime.

They say that the rules clarify that the contract-based jobs’ pay packages other than the original salaries of the government servants would be approved by the chief minister after concurrence by the finance department.

“The authorities must punish only those who were given contract-based jobs in companies without fulfilling these requirements, sparing the rest,” an official said, adding if the salaries were illegal then they must be recovered from the chief minister or the finance department which had approved them.

He and others said all the companies and authorities were created under some law enacted by the provincial assembly. Instead of punishing them all, there was a need to find out which did not deliver and who ran them, they said.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018