Plan to form south Punjab as separate zone gets Imran’s nod

Published April 12, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan has given the nod to a plan envisaging development of south Punjab as a separate “administrative zone”. — Photo courtesy Imran Khan FB page/File
Prime Minister Imran Khan has given the nod to a plan envisaging development of south Punjab as a separate “administrative zone”. — Photo courtesy Imran Khan FB page/File

• Region may be given Punjab’s 32pc govt job quota
• Five devolved departments to be run from Lahore

LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan has given the nod to a plan envisaging development of south Punjab as a separate “administrative zone” in the province with an all-powerful secretariat to tackle issues ranging from lack of resources to under-representation of the region’s populace in public sector jobs.

The premier, during his April 9 visit to Lahore, reportedly also gave his consent to amend the Punjab Civil Servants Act 1974 and to carry out necessary legislation to allow 32 per cent job quota for south Punjab — proportionate to the region’s population percentage in the province.

The south Punjab secretariats comprising 15 departments had been under criticism since their inception in September 2020 as the Punjab government had failed to give any transition plan and transfer the due administrative powers to the administrative secretaries posted there on a double-salary package. For south Punjab, the first additional chief secretary and additional inspector-general of police were appointed in June 2020.

The secretariats came under wider public scanner when the government withdrew two notifications, issued on March 29 and March 30, respectively, regarding rollback of these establishments. While the rules of business had been formulated in December 2020, they were never notified. Eventually, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had to himself appear before the media to claim that the issuance of the notifications was “a technical mistake and human error”, withdrawing both orders.

The issuance and withdrawal of ‘erroneous notifications’, however, proved a blessing in disguise, as it made the Punjab government take all necessary measures it had been reluctant to take for the past seven months.

The plan that got the PM’s nod was prepared by Punjab Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht-led ministerial committee after discussing the issue and marking all the hurdles that had so far been delaying vital decisions and measures. It was presented before Mr Khan during his last visit to Lahore.

The prime minister was informed that poverty rate in south Punjab was twice as much as in rest of the province as the region had been given only 17 per cent of the development share despite having 32pc of the population of the province.

In his presentation, Mr Bakht said the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had allocated a minimum guaranteed annual development programme (ADP) share of 33 per cent and ring-fenced the allocation by the provincial cabinet. Also, the budgeting format was being revisited to ensure transparency in spending, he said, adding that a separate ADP book would be published for the south Punjab region in the upcoming budget.

While talking to Dawn, the finance minister later said the premier was briefed that the main reason for vacant posts, inadequate service delivery and underutilisation of funds in south Punjab was that the human resources which were supposed to perform all those functions did not represent the region well.

The minister suggested that amendments needed to be made in the Punjab’s Civil Servant Act 1974 (Act VIII of 1974) to allocate a quota for the region in the public sector jobs through provincial legislation, as all the provinces except Punjab had the powers to allocate jobs on zonal/regional basis. He explained that Balochistan had seven zones, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa five and Sindh had two zones.

He proposed that the south Punjab region be given 32pc job quota in line with its population base. The rest of Punjab would have 68 per cent job quota.

The minister said the chief secretary and the additional chief secretary (south Punjab) would give final touches to the detailed rules of business under the oversight of the ministerial committee at the earliest.

He said a PC-I would be developed to offer technical assistance to all the departments being moved to south Punjab secretariats to ensure a smooth transition and meet operational challenges.

The ministerial committee would submit a final draft to the CM within a week for approval by the cabinet, he added.

The finance minister said there was a suggestion that the devolved departments such as finance, planning and development, law, services and general administration as well as home department be reverted back to Lahore to be run at the central level and their devolution could be reconsidered in a second phase. “The ministerial committee will see in the amended rules of business that which departments could be run in the south region and which ones may be kept in Lahore to take centralised decisions,” Mr Bakht said.

Regarding the finance department devolution, the minister said he was evaluating the plan and a decision would be taken soon.

Besides the five departments that might be moved back to Lahore, the provincial government had created livestock and dairy development, agriculture, health, education, wildlife and fisheries and irrigation, housing, urban development and public health engineering (HUD&PHE), board of revenue, communication and works, local government and community development in the south Punjab secretariats.

The Punjab government also has plans to initiate work for the construction of new buildings for the secretariats in Multan and Bahawalpur in the current fiscal year.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2021

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