ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has held that since the posts of press officers in Pakistani foreign missions abroad are cadre posts, they must be reserved for the Information Group.
The order was part of a ruling the court delivered on Friday which upheld a decision of the Federal Service Tribunal (FST) that had set aside a 2014 decision by the government to reserve 25 per cent seats for outsiders. “We have gone through the impugned judgement (that of FST) and do not find any flaw therein,” observed Justice Maqbool Baqar, dismissing an appeal instituted by the information ministry against the tribunal’s Oct 21, 2018, verdict.
A two-judge Supreme Court bench, consisting of Justice Maqbool Baqar and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed, had taken up the appeal on Jan 14.
Authored by Justice Baqar, the two-page order held that the information ministry’s appeal did not come up to the definition of “public importance”, as made in Article 212 (3) of the Constitution.
In its order of Oct 21, 2018, the FST had asked the government to adhere to a 2013 Supreme Court judgement which held that no non-civil servant should be appointed on deputation to any cadre of the government.
The SC had ordered the information ministry to maintain the list of press officers for posting in foreign missions while treating the same as cadre post.
The Prime Minister Office, through a memorandum, had notified in 2014 that 25 per cent of the positions for press officers in foreign missions should be reserved for persons outside the information group cadre who have experience in the media. The order was applicable to the private sector as well.
In the first round of litigation, Muqarab Mukhtar and Adeel Javed had approached the Federal Services Tribunal seeking a direction for the selection of press officers for posting in foreign missions from amongst the information group officers on the basis of seniority-cum-fitness.
Postings are made abroad in foreign missions for public diplomacy and external publicity as well as the country’s image-building. It was argued before the FST that these posts were meant exclusively for the information group, as enunciated in the Rules of Business 1973, with a mandate to promote national image through the print and electronic media and to promote national policy objectives by winning hearts and minds across the globe.
It was also argued earlier that members of the information group were trained and equipped with necessary expertise in the field. Under the rules, these posts are cadre posts of the information group and persons from outside the cadre cannot be appointed in foreign missions as it would be a violation of the rules of business.
Thus the revision of policy by providing a 25 per cent quota in foreign missions for individuals from the private sector is a violation of the spirit of Articles 18 (freedom of trade, business or profession) and 25 (equality of citizens) of the Constitution and Esta Code, as well as Civil Servants Rules.
The federal government took the plea that the change in policy was outside the tribunal’s purview and the petition was not maintainable since the prime minister had revised the policy.
Senior counsel Shoaib Shaheen, who pleaded the information group’s case before the apex court, called for adopting a “fair and transparent yardstick” based on seniority-cum-fitness similar to that practised in the Foreign Office.
The Information Group Officers Association expressed relief over the judgement, observing that “our five years’ struggle for rights has finally paid off”.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2020