ISLAMABAD: Although governments in Pakistan have always been sensitive about the country’s image in the West, a media management position at the High Commission in London is being handled on a makeshift basis for the last eight years.
According to a petition filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) by Kashif Zaman, deputy director general (DDG) in the Press Information Department, a BS-18 officer has been looking after the office of Press Minister, a BS-20 position, since 2013.
Documents available with Dawn show that in 2011, the government appointed Shabbir Anwar as press secretary at the High Commission in the United Kingdom and Munir Ahmed as press attaché, a BS-17 post.
Mr Anwar retired during his foreign posting and the charge of the office was temporarily assigned to Munir Ahmed, a BS-18 officer of the Information Group.
The previous government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had closed down the press sections at the foreign missions in Jakarta, Kuwait and Kuala Lumpur on Dec 23, 2013, as a part of its austerity measures and abolished the post of press attaché (BS-17/18).
Since the government did not appoint a new press minister, the attaché was asked to look after the office till the posting of a BS-20 officer.
But the PML-N government, instead of naming an officer of the information group, decided to fill 25pc of vacancies in foreign missions from the private sector.
The post of press minister for London was allocated to the private sector too.
The information group officers challenged the decision before the Federal Services Tribunal (FST), which set aside the government’s initiative.
The government then approached the Supreme Court against the FST’s order, but the apex court upheld the tribunal’s ruling in favour of the information group’s officers.
The matter resurfaced recently after the posting of DDG Kashif Zaman as press minister at the High Commission in London was reversed.
In his petition filed before the Islamabad High Court, Kashif Zaman took the plea that the Special Selection Board finalised the posting of information group officers as press attachés and press counsellors to different countries, but deferred a decision on his posting as press minister in London.
According to the petition, the process to finalise the postings started in June. The ministry conducted a written test at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) for the press minister’s job. Two BS-20 officers — DDGs Kashif Zaman and Manzoor Ali Memon — took the test.
According to Kashif Zaman, he had passed the test and the interview with distinction, but instead of being posted abroad, he was asked to give a presentation before the information secretary.
Shahera Shahid, the secretary, was not satisfied with his performance and told Mr Zaman the “ministry’s denial towards your final selection is based on solid fact that interview panel did not consider you fit for the above-mentioned post. Ministry had strictly followed the principle of seniority-cum-fitness and unluckily you didn’t cross the benchmark of fitness”.
However, the “Minutes of the Special Selection Board” tell a different story. “There was only one candidate against one post of press minister (BS-20). To ensure a fair competition, the board has decided to seek fresh applications for posting against the vacant post,” the minutes read.
Information Secretary Shahera Shahid told Dawn that due to “certain issues”, the office of press minister was being managed by a BS-18 officer.
She said the officer was enjoying the privileges of BS-20 with the High Commissioner’s consent.
According to her, the ministry will shortly restart the process for selection of an officer as press minister in London.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2021