Selection process for senior health position in Punjab reeks of merit violation

Published January 13, 2021Updated January 13, 2021 09:42am
The Punjab Health Facilities Management Company allegedly violated the laid-down merit to help an ex-bureaucrat top the list for the chief executive officer of the company. — AFP/File
The Punjab Health Facilities Management Company allegedly violated the laid-down merit to help an ex-bureaucrat top the list for the chief executive officer of the company. — AFP/File

LAHORE: The Punjab Health Facilities Management Company (PHFMC) allegedly violated the laid-down merit to help an ex-bureaucrat top the list for the chief executive officer of the company.

The selection committee, headed by PHFMC chairman Sohail Ahmad, not only changed the advertised [marks] criteria but also put the ‘favourite’ candidate at the top of the panel right after the interview process.

The committee conducted interviews despite the fact that primary & secondary healthcare department secretary retired Capt Mohammad Usman had objected [in writing] to change in the criteria.

In his letter just a day before the interview date, he had asked the PHFMC [head] to stop the process till the redress of the grievances of some candidates.

Criteria ‘abruptly’ changed for ‘favourite’ person

The basic work of the PHFMC is to manage over 1,000 basic health units of 14 districts of Punjab.

According to documents, four out of 23 candidates were short-listed for interviews based on qualification and experience as per the advertised criteria.

Accordingly, Dr Salman Shahid, a retired additional secretary health (technical), topped by obtaining 90 marks, including 70 score against his education.

Retired bureaucrat Naseem Sadiq obtained 78 marks, Mohammad Arshad Khan Kayani (75) and Dr Faisal Zahoor (73).

Surprisingly, the committee changed the criteria and made final selection on the basis of the experience and interview marks, setting the qualification aside that was a mandatory requirement and first preference in the advertisement.

According to the [changed] criteria, total 100 marks were divided into four portions keeping 25 for administrative experience, 30 for top level leading positions, 15 for health sector-related experience and 30 for interview.

The committee notified its new criteria on Jan 5. Consequently, the ex-bureaucrat was awarded full 25 marks for his experience while other candidates, who were short-listed on the basis of 20-year experience, got 23.2, 22 and 13 score, respectively.

All candidates passed initial scrutiny based on their three to five years of experience of working at top-level positions which carried 30 marks.

However, under the new criteria for experience, 29.5 marks were awarded again to the ‘favourite’ candidate while others got 20, 24.4 and 21.8, respectively.

The committee came up with another ‘surprise’ while awarding 15 marks of health sector experience.

One of the candidates, who worked throughout his career (total 29 years) in health sector and retired as additional secretary, was awarded 10.6 score and another aspirant, who remained director general (health services) for a couple of years, got eight marks. The ex-bureaucrat, who worked at district level health assignment for a few months, was awarded 13 marks.

The committee after interview put the ‘favourite’ man at the top of the four selected candidates by awarding Naseem Sadiq 96.3 marks followed by Humayun Mazhar (79), Dr Salman Shahid (77.6) and Dr Faisal Zahoor (53.2).

“The committee agreed to recommend first three candidates for consideration/approval of the PHFMC board of directors in the next meeting,” reads the minutes of the committee.

One of these candidates, who fulfilled prescribed criteria and potentially could end up among top three, went against the decision of the committee claiming that he was intentionally dropped from the list to tilt the balance in favour of the candidate of choice.

He later moved to the higher forums including the primary & secondary healthcare department to challenge the new criteria.

Consequently, the health secretary wrote a letter to the company secretary asking him to stop the selection process till grievances of all candidates are addressed. However, the PHFMC went ahead with interviews.

Sources said the PHFMC chairman changed the selection criteria right before the start of interviews without obtaining formal approval of revised criteria from the BoD.

Chairman of Board of Directors PHFMC Dr Sohail Ahmad rejected most of the allegations. “Since most of the functions of the company are performed through district managers, the candidate (referring to Naseem Sadiq) has himself been district manager for years and was in possession of the most relevant experience,” he said.

Ahmad said the committee included the P&SHC secretary, two women, including retired professor from Fatima Jinnah Medical College Dr Joveria Mannan.

The committee was also represented by incumbent CEO of the company who is an independent director and a health professional of integrity.

“Since all candidates were eligible, they were carefully assessed,” he said adding that level of their total experience as well as length of 20-year service were required at higher/senior administration level.

“It is basically a top level administrative slot and not just a health position,” Mr Sohail said, adding that the criteria [advertised] also demanded knowledge and experience of health sector to give an additional advantage to the candidates.

Dr Sohail Ahmad said many things were also judged by interviewing a candidate.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2021

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