LAHORE: The country’s most populous province is descending into crises, one after the other, as Punjab’s Governor House is ‘besieged’ by the civil administration following the unceremonious removal of its occupant Omar Sarfraz Cheema, while no-confidence motions are pending against the Punjab Assembly speaker and deputy speaker.

The PML-N coalition government has made its way into Punjab as it managed the chief minister’s election, oath of its CM-elect and eventual ouster of the governor. However, Governor House has been lying vacant for a few days.

Outgoing governor Cheema says there is a serious constitutional, legal and political crisis in Punjab, and has even warned that the PML-N government should not compel people to take to the streets to take the government to task over its “illegal and unconstitutional” steps in Punjab.

He further said his office at Governor House had been blocked by the Punjab police and he was left on his own.

Mr Cheema insists former chief minister Usman Buzdar’s resignation, which was typed and addressed to the prime minister, was unconstitutional. “Former governor Chaudhry Sarwar had unconstitutionally accepted Buzdar’s unconstitutional resignation for a PML-N ticket — despite the party’s senior leaders’ objections,” he had tweeted in the wee hours of Wednesday.

Mr Sarwar stepped up to clarify his position, with an “official supporting” Twitter account of the former governor, Team Sarwar, tweeting that Mr Buzdar’s resignation had been accepted on the call of the then prime minister, Imran Khan, as well as after formal verification by Buzdar himself in a meeting with Sarwar at Governor House. The tweet also added that PA Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, as well as six provincial ministers, were pressing for the acceptance of the resignation immediately. However, this tweet was deleted later in the evening.

In an earlier tweet, the account had stated that Chaudhry Sarwar had not taken any decision regarding his political future.

Governor’s appointment

The political crisis in Punjab is deepening by the day, as both PTI and PML-N camps are adamant that they are standing on the right side of the law and Constitution over the chief minister’s election, his oath and removal of the governor.

Legal eagles of both sides have interpreted the Constitution to suit their narratives, and the superior courts are hearing a case on the CM’s election, while a plea against his oath will be taken up by a full bench of the Lahore High Court on Thursday (today).

The PML-N’s federal government had notified the removal of Punjab governor Cheema as soon as the clock struck 12 at midnight on May 9 – citing Article 101 and Proviso to Article 48(1) of the Constitution. The government notified that following the prime minister’s advice(s) rendered to the president on April 17 and May 1, the governor automatically ceased to hold the office on May 10.

Consequently, the federal and Punjab governments instructed law enforcement agencies to take over Governor House and bar Mr Cheema from entering the premises. The notification that held Cheema from continuing to hold office also stated that the Punjab Assembly speaker shall perform the functions of acting governor till the appointment of someone full time.

However, Speaker Parvez Elahi refused to take the acting charge since he does not want to leave the Punjab Assembly open to the PML-N because Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari is clearly inclined towards the ruling party and had even facilitated the chief minister’s election ensuring that PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz wins it with the help of PPP and the PTI’s 26 dissident MPAs.

The PML-N is now awaiting the appointment of its nominee, Baleeghur Rehman, as the new Punjab Governor, whose name was recommended to the president on May 7.

Legal experts say under the Constitution the president can hold the prime minister’s advice for the appointment of a governor for 15 days and then another 10 days after re-endorsement of the summary.

However, they say, an extraordinary situation has been created in the wake of PA Speaker Elahi’s refusal to assume the acting governor’s charge. Since the president has also disclosed his intention by not accepting the premier’s advice regarding removal of Mr Cheema, the experts say the federal government can appoint the new governor anytime through a notification of the Cabinet Division.

Meanwhile, in the Punjab Assembly, no-confidence motions are pending against the speaker and deputy speaker, which were submitted on April 7 and April 6, respectively. The resolutions were needed to be taken up in seven days from their submission – maximum on April 14 and 13, respectively.

In the turbulent political situation, an assembly session was called on April 28 to take up the motion against Deputy Speaker Mazari. However, the speaker had to postpone the proceedings to May 16 before the session even began as the assembly’s coordination secretary was arrested and district administration conducted raids to arrest the secretary.

Administrative impasse

While the political crisis brews in Punjab, its administrative functions have come to a grinding halt since former chief minister Buzdar’s resignation was accepted on April 1.

The civil bureaucracy had immediately started realigning itself with the PML-N that had formed its government in the Centre, and blocked all the files and summaries moved by Mr Buzdar.

There has been a complete administrative impasse in the bureaucracy since then and confusion prevailed even over the funding of and implementation of decisions regarding provision of security to Eid congregations in the wake of a suicide bombing in Karachi. The cabinet committee on law and order did not exist.

This administrative crisis still persists despite CM Hamza Shehbaz taking over the reins of Punjab, shuffling the civil and police officials besides undertaking whirlwind tours of the province.

Yet, the PML-N-led coalition government in the province is unable to form a cabinet and run the administrative affairs effectively, primarily because there was no one to administer the oath to new cabinet members. “The provincial cabinet is an apex body in a province that acts as a full-fledged government and takes administrative and financial decisions,” a senior bureaucrat told Dawn.

The bureaucrats are also reluctant to take any decisions fearing how they will be construed when the provincial cabinet is sworn in. “The administrative secretaries and other top officers in the civil bureaucracy most of the time require political wisdom, input and direction,” a senior officer said, adding the province’s administrative set-up currently lacked standing committees on all sectors, including finance and development, law and order and legislative business.

“The civil bureaucracy is not feeling empowered to even allow additional funding beyond the allocated budget for development or non-development activity – even if fiscal space is available,” a senior officer remarked.

The administrative problems are multiplying as the current financial year is already in the middle of its last quarter and the provincial government should have been working full-throttle to prepare a budget for the next fiscal year. “The civil bureaucracy will be at a loss if there is no finance minister anytime soon,” an officer concerned said.

The civil servants during the PTI rule in the province remained reluctant to take any bold administrative and financial decisions fearing accountability; the previous government had failed to build up the bureaucracy’s confidence, and instead instilled fear in it through NAB investigations.

The PML-N government in the Centre has hinted that it will constitute a committee of senior bureaucrats and seek recommendations to boost the confidence of the officers to take all kinds of decisions without any fear.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022

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