ISLAMABAD: The creation of five new top-level posts has become a bone of contention between the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and its administrative ministry — Information and Broadcasting — after the latter censured the media watchdog for bypassing the Establishment and Finance divisions and ignoring austerity measures already in place.

In its 167th meeting, held on Dec 6, 2021, Pemra approved the creation of five posts, which included the position of senior director general (PS-11, equivalent to BPS-21) four posts of directors general (PS-10, equivalent to BPS-20).

However, in a letter sent on Jan 10, 2022 by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, a copy of which is available with Dawn, the ministry questioned the creation of posts by Pemra.

According to the ministry, this act was “absolutely in contravention [of] the Finance Division’s office memorandum… of July 15, 2021.” The memo in question banned the creation of new posts in government departments, except those required for development projects and, those too with the approval of competent authorities.

Media watchdog claims finance, establishment division rules do not apply to autonomous bodies

The ministry has directed Pemra to the creation of posts, warning that “any appointment by promotion or any other means on the posts of senior director general and director general will be tantamount to administrative and financial misconduct and will be dealt accordingly.”

However, a Pemra spokesperson told Dawn that the authority was financially and administratively independent of the government and that the ministry’s letter was based on a “misconstruing of the facts”.

Letter of censure

The information ministry’s letter points out that “The secretary to the authority and director general human resources (HR) Pemra Headquarters did not convey the directives of the Finance Division to authority members that are required to be complied in letter and spirit by all the ministries, division[s], departments [and] organizations.”

“Notwithstanding an explicit ban on the creation of posts by Finance Division applicable to all ministries/divisions/departments/organizations, the authority unanimously approved the recommendations of the five member committee on HR”, it added.

The information ministry also questioned “how the seat of senior director general be created and be filled consequently without the approval of Finance Division” in light of the aforementioned memo.

On the creation of four posts of director general (operations) for each province, the ministry pointed out that “the existing strength of directors general in Pemra is 10 and this cannot be revised without the concurrence of Finance Division.”

According to the letter, “the annual expenditure of Pemra for financial year 2020-2021 was Rs2,634 million and the organisation’s overall strength of regular employees is 593; creation of 5 posts of PS-11 and PS-10 would swell the overall expenditure of the organisation.”

The ministry criticised the electronic media watchdog for its performance, saying that “the efficiency of [Pemra] top management is already under question and approval for creation of five posts by the authority is without any concrete justification.”

This was possibly a reference to the action on a complaint, filed against Pemra in 2020, over the induction and promotion of senior officials.

On November 11, 2020, the Prime Minister’s Office had, on a complaint filed by a suspended director general of the authority, asked the information ministry to probe the matter.

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

Subsequently, the ministry constituted a four-member team on June 17, led by the additional (information) to investigate “illegal appointments of 7 Pemra officers” and “complaints against DG Haji Adam.”

Autonomous body

The ministry’s letter of censure to Pemra also points out that any “restructuring or expansion plan must be in accordance with the Rules of Business 1973, as Pemra falls under the administrative domain of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” adding that such a key decision was taken in the absence of the information secretary.

It should be noted that the information secretary is an ex-officio member of the Pemra board.

However, Pemra spokesperson Mohammad Tahir told Dawn that the Pemra board consisted of 12 members and the information secretary only had one vote.

He said the ministry’s secretary was absent from the meeting that approved the creation of new posts because she was unwell. “She could have written a dissenting note if she had participated in the meeting,” he added.

In his view, since Pemra generated revenue on its own and never sought any financial assistance from the government, it could create/restructure its strength without the approval of the Finance and Establishment divisions.

He also contended that since the electronic media regulator was an autonomous body, it was not under any obligation to follow the Finance Division’s embargo.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022

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