The Punjab bureaucracy is under a cloud of uncertainty as most senior officers are apprehensive about their fates owing to the rapid changes in political governments, and have thus put decision-making on the backburner, eventually leaving the public to suffer.

A spate of transfers and postings is expected in the province following another change in the government, and Chaudhry Parvez Elahi positioning the “willing workers” in the bureaucracy to run the province’s affairs as per his vision after assuming the office of Punjab chief minister. These transfers and postings cost the government exchequer heavily.

Read more: Ruling Punjab

While there are bureaucrats who play smart and align themselves with every new political administration, there are some who have been exposed through their past record or decisions and actions made during the previous government’s short stint in power.

A new breed of officers also emerged in the past few years, who were accused of getting ‘lucrative postings’ by bribing the top officer in the chief executive’s secretariat. Then there’s also a whole lot of bureaucrats who are least concerned about political changes and are enjoying perks and privileges, without doing much.

While the bureaucracy is looking towards its new political bosses with fingers crossed for alignments best suited to the new government, the first posting against a top position has raised many eyebrows.

Chief Minister Elahi’s diehard loyalist Muhammad Khan Bhatti, who belongs to the Punjab Assembly service, was transferred and posted as the principal secretary to the CM even before Mr Elahi took oath of office from President Dr Arif Alvi at the Presidency at 2am on Wednesday. Mr Bhatti has neither undergone any top management training nor the bureaucratic system in vogue. “One can look at this posting differently on merit, but people are not surprised with it,” a senior bureaucrat told Dawn.

Punjab Chief Secretary Kamran Afzal, however, says Bhatti is a civil servant and it is the CM’s prerogative who he wants to post and where.

Mr Elahi had already expressed his annoyance at CS Kamran Ali Afzal and former police chief Rao Sardar Ali Khan over their action against PTI legislators and deploying the police force on the floor of the Punjab Assembly a few months ago. Former inspector general of police (IGP) Rao Sardar, however, managed to ‘escape’ after getting himself transferred to the federal government, while CS Afzal is still there and asserts he is performing his duties as a neutral civil servant.

After the three-and-a-half-year rule of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the province, several bureaucrats were exposed when they acted out of loyalty to the PML-N government and were even accused as such by the PTI leadership, including its chairman Imran Khan.

The PTI chief, in his public meetings, had lambasted the CS, IGP as well as commissioners and deputy commissioners — particularly those posted in Lahore and Layyah in the wake of the PTI’s long march on Islamabad on May 25.

Several other officers are now looking for transfers out of the province to avoid being labeled ‘PML-N bureaucrats’ — a term that became a norm in Punjab over the last several years.

Senior bureaucrats say a good civil servant should not have political leanings and be ready to work with any government; those uncomfortable with a political administration should be ready to be sidelined. However, unfortunately, the officers agree civil servants were now more interested in developing political inclinations to get lucrative postings than functioning as neutral officers to serve the masses.

“There are some bureaucrats, who undermine all political bosses and take control of all the decisions – which is the worst situation, but in vogue,” an officer said.

“The issue of bureaucrats paying hefty amounts as bribes to get lucrative postings, and successive governments claiming to remove such officers is already in public domain,” a senior officer said.

Another officer regretted that around 80 per cent of the bureaucracy has become corrupt, and takes all the risks to commit corruption for itself , but wasn’t ready to take any risks for the government and the state.

In the Usman Buzdar government in Punjab, over 50 cabinet meetings were held with huge agendas to take financial and administrative decisions. “Many of those decisions should have been taken by the administrative secretaries but they preferred to get those approved from the cabinet to avert accountability,” a bureaucrat acknowledged. He also blames Imran Khan’s threats to the bureaucracy soon after forming the Punjab and federal governments in 2018 for keeping officers away from taking bold decisions.

A bureaucrat said the political inclinations of civil servants were limited to BS-21 and BS-22 officers in terms of postings until a few years ago, but unfortunately now the trend has trickled down to BS-17 officers.

“Now even newly inducted BS-17 officers need political leanings to get important postings,” the officer said, and added there was no merit in postings as good officers without ‘political connections’ continued to be shunned from good positions.

He says the bureaucracy is going through uncertainty and indecision, and functions only on court orders or instructions of the top bosses. “Routine work has been suspended and bureaucrats are busy discussing perks and privileges and commenting on ongoing transfers and postings,” the officer stated, adding eventually the public is suffering.

“I will have no problem with the government until I am enjoying an official residence, car, fuel and other privileges,” he remarked, adding “transfers also fetch me heavy extra bucks as TA, DA (travel allowance and daily allowance)”.

“Look at any bureaucrat and one can find his political leanings, postings and services rendered to particular political bosses,” the officer regretted.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2022

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