THE Punjab chief secretary has reminded 54 government officers to return money paid to them in addition to what was deemed to be their fair and rightly earned salary. The reminder has come in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision some time ago, focusing on appointments made in various public-sector companies and perks given to the employees by the Shahbaz Sharif government. Interestingly enough, the overwhelming majority of those asked had agreed to pay back the ‘extra’ sum. The cumulative amount runs into hundreds of millions, with one officer alone ‘owing’ the Pakistani public more than Rs50m. There are other, similar cases that are part of the expanding accountability exercise, for example, the appointment of the famous poet and author Ataul Haq Qasmi who was appointed chairman of PTV by the last PML-N government. In this instance as well, the Supreme Court is seeking to recover the money ‘overspent’ on him as chairman, by fining a number of people blamed for his appointment, including the then information minister. Mr Qasmi has been asked to pay some of it as well.

This may be one of the evolving formulas of getting back the ‘riches’, but it will surely tax the minds of jurists looking for a just system to perform what has traditionally been considered an impossible task, ie recovering resources already spent. In the case of the Punjab officials, who are perceived as not having actually ‘earned’ what they were paid, it must be said that they are being penalised for the last government’s avowed desire of following market principles — pay good salaries and ask employees to be more responsible and efficient. Since it is going to be difficult to challenge this rule in a fast-changing world, it would be in everyone’s interest to have some kind of a policy in place at the federal and provincial levels in order to avoid more situations where the government has to knock on the doors of its own employees to reclaim salary slips.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2018

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