LAHORE: Political instability in the country is taking its toll on the governance as the two `rival’ governments in the Centre and Punjab have so far failed to reach any consensus to appoint a regular chief secretary.

The country’s largest province has been without a regular chief secretary for the past over 10 weeks since [CS] Kamran Ali Afzal had gone on a two-week ‘protest leave’ on Sept 17 as he was not feeling comfortable with the working of Chief Minister Parvez Elahi and later claimed that he was being pressurised to sign ‘out-of-merit’ transfers and postings of senior civil servants against his will.

The Punjab government had immediately granted look-after charge to Planning and Development (P&D) Board chairman Abdullah Khan Sumbal and also moved a panel of senior-most bureaucrats to the federal government – but there remained a cold response.

Mr Sumbal has so far been granted four extensions in the office of the chief secretary in line with regular CS’ leave extensions. Mr Afzal had applied for `protest leave’ twice and was continuing requesting the PDM’s federal government to pull him out of Punjab. His request too fell on deaf ears and being jittery he neither applied for the extension in leave nor re-joined the office.

Official says Centre, Punjab are in ‘serious talks’ over the issue

In a last ditch effort, CS Kamran Afzal has written a note to the establishment division requesting 130-day ex-Pakistan leave. Mr Afzal has stated in his leave request that he wanted to travel to Australia. “It is requested that he (CS Kamran Ali Afzal) be granted ex-Pakistan leave for 130 days with effect from Dec 7 to enable him to travel to Australia,” reads the note.

Sources say there is some movement and Punjab and the Centre were in talks for the appointment of a regular CS since the acting chief secretary was not empowered enough to take long-term decisions, affecting governance in the province.

“Punjab and the Centre are in serious talks for the appointment of the chief secretary since IG Punjab Faisal Shahkar has eventually been pulled out of Punjab by notifying his posting in the United Nations,” a source said.

After CS Afzal’s request for transfer from Punjab, Mr Shahkar had requested the federal government to pull him out of Punjab after he faced bashing for not getting an FIR registered with regard to assassination attempt on former prime minister Imran Khan – as per his wishes to nominate three suspects including an army officer.

Mr Shahkar has been posted as United Nations Police Adviser (D-2) in the police division, office of Rule of Law and Security Institution, Department of Peace Operations, UN Headquarters, New York, until his superannuation on Dec 29, 2024.

Sources claim the federal government is also floating the candidature of Muhammad Ali Shahzada, a BS-22 officer, for the chief secretary. However, there is no official confirmation.

The Punjab government’s panel of three officers, comprising cabinet secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera, P&D Board chairman Abdullah Khan Sumbal and former SMBR Babar Hayat Tarar still exists. Mr Sukhara was, however, excluded from the race as he is retiring from service on attaining the age of superannuation in a couple of months.

Since look-after charge granted to the `acting’ chief secretary did not allow a mandate to take decisions in an effective manner and that too for the long-term, the stopgap arrangement had reduced the working of the civil bureaucracy to day-today affairs. Though incumbent chief secretary Mr Sumbal is continuing on look-after charge, he was able to manage the governance and deliver on almost all fronts including law and order, dengue control and smog problem management. Mr Sumbal was also acknowledged for making efforts to do away with the perception of uneven development [in certain parts of the province].

“The decisions implying long-term effects have, however, been affected as the mandate remained with the regular chief secretary,” a source in the chief minister’s office told Dawn.

After 10 weeks of uncertainty as the fourth extension in the look-after charge of chief secretary is ending on Tuesday (today), the office is waiting for a regular incumbent with fingers crossed.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

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