BAHAWALPUR: With the statement of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Multan recently and endorsed by South Punjab additional chief secretary (ACS) Zahid Akhtar Zaman the other day that the assembly of the proposed south Punjab province would decide about the establishment of its permanent secretariat either in Bahawalpur or Multan, the ongoing arrangements here in this respect have been withheld with immediate effect.

The officials of the district administration involved in the matter and assisting the ACS’s staff in this connection told Dawn that now all things have come to a standstill and only the temporary secretariat will continue to exist here till the final decision to the effect.

The ACS after assuming his charge here in July actively began search for the suitable place to construct /establish the south Punjab secretariat for which the Punjab government had also announced funds to the tune of Rs1.38 billion.

The district administration had identified two sites with a provision of over 200 acre available at each of the location for the construction of secretariat along with GORs. But now, according to local officials, with the new development arising out of the statements of foreign minister and backed by ACS, everything has been suspended and put on hold till the clearance by the government. Officials say there is confusion about the issue.

They say the temporary secretariat is hardly fully functional as the government record of the south Punjab areas has not yet been shifted from Lahore to Bahawalpur and Multan. The ACS had earlier expressed his intention to make the temporary Bahawalpur secretariat functional within a period of three months during which, according to him, the entire government records would be shifted from Lahore to Bahawalpur. Now, it is not yet known that in the changed situation, whether this official record would be moved from Lahore to Bahawalpur or not as SP secretariat would have no place to keep this precious record in safe custody.

In addition, as the Punjab government had made substantial allocation of funds (of Rs 1.38 billion) making its provision in the current year’s ADP for the establishment/construction of permanent secretariat here, these funds could not be transferred for any other purpose as Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar had assured.

Besides, it remains to be seen whether provincial secretaries and their staff of about 29 government departments would be posted here to assist and share the government workload of local problems or not. The Punjab government is selecting these secretaries and seeking their options for their posting in the secretariat here.

The local political and public circles had already expressed their doubts over the establishment of South Punjab’s permanent secretariat here claiming that neither the PTI government could be in a strong constitutional position to carve out a South Punjab province nor would its assembly come into being.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2020

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