MUZAFFARABAD: Secretaries in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government have criticised their ‘meagre’ perks and privileges and demanded additional benefits, such as family cars and armed guards.
Their demands were made to Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider at a recent meeting, which was convened to review performance and service delivery and devise a mechanism to address public complaints and implement the vision and policies of the government, sources privy to the proceedings told Dawn on condition of anonymity.
According to them, after Chief Secretary Mathar Niaz Rana spelled out the motives of the meeting, Prime Minister Haider maintained that the entire official machinery — from peon to prime minister — was drawing salaries and other benefits from taxpayers’ money but the purpose of employing around 100,000 employees in a small region was not being fulfilled satisfactorily.
However, sources said, some of the participants were more focused on enhancing their perks and privileges rather than the purpose of the meet.
“We all [secretaries] are at risk … Our official vehicles are almost worn out,” they quoted one senior secretary as saying.
The same secretary, according to the sources, claimed that a decision had been made at a previous meeting with the premier that all secretaries would be provided additional cars for their families as well as a police constable for their security.
While complaining about the “insufficiency” of the monthly utility allowance for secretaries, the aforementioned bureaucrat also regretted non-issuance of the minutes of the previous meeting.
Another senior secretary came to his colleague’s aid, presenting a dismal picture of their fiscal health.
“Someone should ask us as to how we manage to bear up with this dearness … Those whose spouses do not do any jobs are hardly making ends meet,” he asserted, according to the sources.
He also supported the demand for increasing the utility allowance.
Another secretary also supported the provision of police guards because “sometimes the law and order problem could expose them to danger.”
The prime minister sought comments from Finance Secretary Farid Ahmed Tarar — one of the four to five ‘lent officers’ posted in AJK from amongst the federal bureaucracy.
Mr Tarar poured cold water on the demands of enthusiastic local bureaucrats, reminding them that federal secretaries and federal and provincial ministers in Pakistan were entitled to only one vehicle each.
He maintained that increase in utility allowance in Punjab had some other reasons peculiar to the biggest province.
“Unfortunately, here we often demand parity with any province wherever it suits us,” he said, adding that a principled decision had been taken long ago that no approval would be granted on the basis of parity with other provinces but only on the basis of availability of resources.
The sources claimed that of all the secretaries who spoke only one drew attention towards an administrative issue, which was about authorising secretaries to approve development projects up to a certain cost limit.
The prime minister told the participants that the previous meeting being referred to by some of them had held discussions but no final decision was taken. Ruling out provision of additional cars, he also said the attachment of police guards with secretaries would provoke public ire.
He said he would ensure a comfortable working environment for secretaries but in return they would have to improve their performance to justify the huge officialdom and bureaucracy in AJK.
“You have to compete with other provinces in terms of performance, not perks and privileges,” sources quoted him as saying.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the premier constituted a committee to look into the issues raised by the secretaries — a step sources said appeared to be aimed at solacing them.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2019