Lest we forget

Published August 18, 2022
The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

EVEN if you are driving on the most deserted road in the world, you must use the indicator before turning left or right. Why? Because if you decide to skip this part when it is not really required, then you might end up also skipping it when absolutely required, leading to catastrophic consequences.

The same thing can be said about a loose tongue: if you are a habitual loose talker, you will end up saying the most inappropriate stuff at the most inappropriate time. Mr Shahbaz Gill is learning this lesson the hard way.

But it was not the first time Mr Gill (or other politicians) used similar language for state functionaries. Mr Gill is on record for threatening the former DPO Sialkot and even the chief secretary Punjab, who recently requested a transfer from Punjab citing personal reasons.

Obviously, the secretary being a seasoned bureaucrat would never divulge the undignified and immature rants of the politicians of the current ruling party in Punjab as the reason behind seeking a transfer.

Sadly, the top leadership of political parties also gives a nod of approval to such behaviour. It seems that in pursuing populist ideals, the well-being of the state is forgotten. All they care about is political mileage and portraying an image that elevates them to a ‘position’ virtually above the law.

Mr Gill got away with it in the past, but this time it was different. A quote from Animal Farm by George Orwell best explains the reasons why suddenly everyone including his party colleagues think that he has not been entirely appropriate. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

It reminds me of another incident that occurred in 2012. Syeda Wahida Shah, a candidate of the PPP for by-election to PS-53 (Tando Muhammad Khan) was captured by TV cameras slapping a member of the polling staff. The Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the incident.

What has been happening in Punjab is appalling.

After the incident, Ms Anita Turab (a civil servant) also filed an application in the Supreme Court to safeguard the rights of civil servants; this was taken up as a petition under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution. The said petition culminated in a comprehensive order written by justice Jawwad S. Khwaja, with justices Iftikhar Chaudhry and Khilji Arif Hussain as part of the bench.

The issue of appointments and removals, promotions, transfers and tenure, obeying illegal orders given by superiors, posting civil servant as officers on special duty (OSD) was addressed in the all-encompassing order. However, all the aspects that have been addressed in the said order are being flouted with impunity from the very first day by successive governments.

Take, for example, the tenure, posting and transfer of civil servants. The Supreme Court declared that when the ordinary tenure for a posting has been specified in the law or rules made thereunder, such tenure must be respected and cannot be altered, except for compelling reasons, which should be recorded in writing and be judicially reviewable.

Read: Punjab regime change ‘ill omen’ for police officers

Considering that the normal period of posting of a government servant at a station, according to Rule 21 of the Rules of Business, is three years, what has been happening in Punjab over the past few months is appalling. The current Punjab government is flouting the rules and making a mockery of the apex court judgement by transferring and using civil servants like pieces of a messed-up jigsaw puzzle. This proves that an order even by the apex court amounts to nothing without the political and administrative will to implement it. The power of the Supreme Court, it seems, is directly proportional to the commitment of civil society and the political leadership to the state rather than to their vested interests.

The solution lies in establishing a system that eliminates individual discretion and implements rules in a machine-like fashion. An extreme example can be a software that refuses to transfer an individual without the completion of a three-year tenure and, if it is pressing, then a proper committee must review the reasons as well as the motive. When such a system is in place, there is no going back. It will not help get a certain election result under certain circumstances. The problem arises when one wishes for selective fairness, selective justice and the selective implementation of law and the rules. Before anyone else, the reform must reform the reformer.

Lastly, our courts, our media, our populace have such a short memory. They pass orders, build narratives, form an opinion and before you know it, they move on to something else. Translating the words of Munir Niazi, “The first step proved to be the last one/ As if a creeper is scared to cover any ground”.

The writer is a former civil servant.

syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com

Twitter: @SyedSaadat55

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022

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