• Removed official says ready to prove his innocence, claims relevant files still lying in president’s office
• Ex-PM Shehbaz seeks official inquiry to determine truth; ex-bureaucrats say matter calls for official inquiry

ISLAMABAD: The controversy surrounding the passage of amendments to the Official Secrets Act and Pakistan Army Act refused to die down on Monday, as President Arif Alvi sent his secretary Waqar Ahmed packing back to the Establishment Division, whereas the latter called his removal from the post “not based on justice”.

The removal of the president’s secretary just a day after Mr Alvi accused his subordinates of undermining his command is being seen as a punishment for his alleged impudence, but there was no direct reference to the former secretary’s involvement in the episode. However, the ‘confidential’ response of the secretary wherein he asked the president to withdraw his decision regarding his job revealed that Mr Ahmed was removed over the controversy of the bills.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Alvi asked Humaira Ahmed, a BPS-22 officer, to replace Mr Ahmed. “In view of the definite statement of yesterday, President’s Secretariat has written a letter to Principal Secretary to Prime Minister that the services of Mr Waqar Ahmed, Secretary to President, are no more required and are surrendered to the Establishment Division, immediately,” said an official press release.

Secretary seeks probe

However, a letter penned by the removed secretary stated that he was ready to present a “record” before the Supreme Court or any court for clarification and to prove his innocence. He also called for “an inquiry by the Federal Investigation Agency or any other agency to probe the facts and fix the responsibility for any lapse, if committed by any officer or official”.

“You are aware of all the facts about the above-mentioned two bills and the reality is that I am neither responsible for delay nor undermined the office of the honourable president. I can give my statement on oath,” Mr Ahmed wrote, asking the president to withdraw his order regarding surrendering of his services to the Establishment Division.

The president’s act “conveys a message to the general public and media that perhaps the secretary to the president is responsible for any irregularity in connection with processing of the subject bills”, the letter read.

In his letter, while mentioning the diary numbers of the files moved by his office to the president, Mr Ahmed clai­med that the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023 was received in the Presidency on the evening after close of office hours on August 2 and that the said bill was submitted to the president next day with a note clearly stating “that the prime minister’s advice was received on 02.08.23 (Aug 2) and time of 10 days will be completed on 11.08.2023 (Aug 11).”

“The honourable president neither assented to the bill nor gave a written decision for returning the bill for reconsideration by the parliament. The said file has not been returned to the office of the secretary till to date i.e. 21-08-2023 (Aug 21),” said the letter.

He said the Official Secrets Act was received on the evening of August 8 and it was submitted to the president the next day. “It was clearly stated in the note that the PM’s advice was received on 08-08-2023 (Aug 8) and time of 10 days will be completed on 17.08.2023 (Aug 17).” However, both files were still sitting in the president’s office as of Monday, he claimed.

He stated that the president’s decision to surrender the services of the secretary to the Establish­ment Division “is not based on justice”.

“The above facts and movement of two above-mentioned files clearly indicate that I neither delayed above mentioned two bills nor committed any irregularity or negligence,” the letter read.

‘Bid to save his prestige’

According to some retired bureaucrats, a “discreet” inquiry was required to be conducted against those found guilty of involvement in the controversy and that repatriating the secretary to the Establishment Division was a “routine” matter.

According to former bureaucrat Shoaib Suddle, the transfer was a routine matter and it had nothing to do with the controversy surrounding the two laws. Mr Suddle said the president should have asked for an inquiry and the accused official should have been given a fair chance to explain his position.

“This is the normal practice if such an offence is committed by any government official,” he added.

Senator Irfan Siddique, who had served at the President’s House and is aware of the procedures and protocols of the presidency, said the president further “complicated the situation by removing his principal secretary without any allegation and reason”.

Mr Siddiqui said there was a legal cell in the Presidency, headed by a retired judge of a superior court, which gives guidelines to the president about bills and other legal matters.

“PS was at the top of his career when the president tried to save his own prestige” by blaming the official, the PML-N senator added.

He added the president now has two options, either to resign or to tell the truth.

“Otherwise he will become more controversial,” he added. He said in fact the president’s tweet itself was a “confession or an FIR” against him.

Another retired federal secretary said the decision to remove the secretary would raise more questions for the president. “It is not the end of the story,” he said.

He said the president always sought legal advice from the law cell headed by a retired judge and in the particular case of two controversial bills, he might have taken guidelines from the same cell.

‘Official inquiry’

Speaking to reporters here in London about the controversy surrounding President Arif Alvi and the assent to legislation, former prime minister and PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif said an official inquiry should be launched into the incident.

The PML-N leader said a transparent inquiry should be held into Alvi’s conduct “to determine facts through a transparent probe”.

He said an inquiry will clarify whether the staff of the president made a mistake or whether Mr Alvi “lied”.

“As a premier, one is required to give signatures, the president is required to do the same by putting down his signature.”

He also said that state business is not conducted through informal means and that whether the president “rejects or approves a bill, he signs it, there is nothing oral”.

He added that as President Alvi holds the highest constitutional office of the state, an inquiry is needed to determine the truth.

Atika Rehman in London also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2023

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