Disputes within Pemra turn into altercation with ministry

Published October 4, 2021
A file view of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) headquarters in Islamabad. — Dawn
A file view of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) headquarters in Islamabad. — Dawn

ISLAMABAD: The infi­ghting among top officials of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Autho­rity (Pemra) has turned into a bone of contention between the media watchdog and the ministry of information and broadcasting, Dawn can reveal.

The documents placed before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) have served to highlight the issue. The papers have been submitted by seven officials of Pemra (an executive member and six directors general), the ministry of information, and a Pemra director general who initiated the complaint against the seven officers.

The complainant in this matter is Director General Haji Adam, who forwarded a complaint to the prime minister, requesting a probe against the induction of Pemra’s Executive Member Ashfak Jumani and Direc­tors General Sardar Arfan Ashraf Khan, Mukhtar Ahmad, Mohammad Farooq, Javed Iqbal, Sohail Asif Ali and Wakeel Khan.

The complainant alleged that Mr Jumani, Mr Ashraf Khan and Mr Ahmad were initially appointed on contracts of two years in 2002; however, they continued wor­king in Pemra beyond that year and were promoted agai­nst regular posts to BS-20.

The complaint alleged that Mr Farooq was initially appointed as assistant general manager in BS-17 against a post which was never advertised. He was overage and did not possess the required experience.

Mr Iqbal was initially appointed as deputy general manager in October 2003 allegedly in violation of basic required qualifications and age limit and experience.

Similarly, it said, Sohail Asif was inducted into Pemra as general manager in July 2009 through deputation, but he did not possess the required experience. He was ultimately absorbed in Pemra and was not repatriated in violation of an order of the Supreme Court. Such allegations were also levelled in the case of another director general, Wakeel Khan.

The complaint stated: “These individuals were not only illegally hired, appointed, inducted as well as promoted in Pemra but ironically are being treated as regular employees of the authority. Available records in the HR Wing clearly show irregularities in their employment.”

As per the court’s record, Mr Jumani is getting a monthly salary of Rs500,550, Ashraf Khan Rs575,749, Mukhtar Ahmad Rs735,237, Javed Iqbal Rs441,998, Mohammad Farooq Rs460,133, Sohail Asif Rs479,070 and Wakeel Khan Rs422,261.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on November 11 last year asked the information ministry to “look into the matter and furnish a report to this office within 15 days”.

The ministry directed Pemra “to furnish a report in this regard to the ministry before Nov 20, 2020”. However, since there was no progress in the matter, the PMO on May 24 this year sent a reminder to the information ministry, saying “the report…is awaited. It is requested that the same may please be expedited”.

Subsequently, the ministry on June 17 constituted a four-member team comprising additional secretary (information) as its chairman, and a joint secretary, director general (cybercrimes wing), and a deputy director of the ministry as members to investigate “illegal appointments of 07 Pemra officers” and “complaint of directors general against DG Haji Adam”.

Stance of Pemra officers

However, the seven top Pemra officers challenged the information ministry’s notification for setting up the inquiry committee.

The petition these officers filed before the IHC stated that under the Pemra Ordinance 2007, the information ministry had no role in the matter. To substantiate their claim, they cited section 5 of the Pemra ordinance, which ensures the regulator’s autonomy.

The seven officers are of the view that the “federal government can only issue directives on the policy consideration, whereas the impugned office order does not fall within the same”.

Furthermore, they said: “Under Regulation 7(1) of the Service Regulations makes it evident that the information ministry has no dominion over the Pemra officials and neither do they report nor work under its instruction.”

Ministry’s opinion

In a written response to the petition of seven Pemra officials, the information ministry rejected their stance and said that Rule 13(1)(e) of Rules of Business, 1973 clearly mentions administrative authority of the information and broadcasting division.

“The… Pemra itself would always be administered by the federal government through secretary for information and broadcasting as per procedure laid down in the Rules of Business,” the ministry’s written reply said.

It said the “officers whose appointments, regularisation and promotions were suspicious and had to go under scrutiny through the investigation and inquiry of the above-mentioned committee, (had) insisted that this particular matter of their alleged illegal appointment, regularisation and promotion has already been settled”. The ministry termed this an unjustified demand.

After an initial hearing, IHC’s Justice Aamer Farooq issued a stay order and fixed Nov 17 as the next date of hearing.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2021

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