LAHORE: The creation of 10 new posts of special secretaries for south Punjab is being seen as an attempt to reverse the decentralisation of administrative power, which was done through allowing autonomous status to South Punjab Secretariat by the last PTI government.

The PTI government had in 2020 established a separate civil secretariat for south Punjab, comprising Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, and Bahawalpur divisions, to address the developmental disparities between south and central parts of the province.

The South Punjab Secretariat was establish by “partially accepting” the longstanding demand of the people of the Seraiki region for a separate province, based on the region’s cultural and economic identity.

The south secretariat was termed as the first step towards greater self-governance, and to bring decision-making closer to the people of south Punjab.

The government had also created one post in BS-21 for the additional chief secretary (south) (ACS-south) and 21 BS-20 posts for administrative officers and director generals of different departments, besides 21 BS-19 posts of additional secretaries and 34 of deputy secretaries.

The PTI government had established 17 departments in the south secretariat, including Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD), Local Government and Community Development (LG&CD) Department, Planning and Development (P&D) Department, Livestock and Dairy Development Department (L&DD), Communication and Works (C&W) Department, Irrigation Department, Board of Revenue and Finance Department in Bahawalpur and Specialized Healthcare & Medical Education (SHC&ME) Department, Primary and Secondary Health (P&SH) Department, Housing Urban Development & Public Health Engineering (HUD & PHE) Department, Agriculture Department, Higher Education Department, School Education Department, Forest, Wildlife & Fisheries Department (FW&F) Department, Home Department and law and parliamentary affairs (never actualised) in Multan.

However, sources say, PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz, who did a short stint as Punjab chief minister from April 30, 2022 to May 2, 2022, also tried to reverse the south secretariat, but could not do so because of his early removal from the post.

According to the sources, the PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz-led provincial government has decided to curtail the autonomous powers of the South Punjab Secretariat and slashing the number of departments from 17 to 10.

They say that the 10 special secretaries, whose posts have been created, will report to the Civil Secretariat in Lahore and the post of ACS (south) will be shelved.

The south secretariat’s employees have not been given the special relocation allowance for last year which is causing a sense of disillusionment among the staff, they add.Punjab Finance Department’s notification available with Dawn states that it agrees to the creation of 10 posts of special secretaries (BS-20) on temporary basis in various administrative departments of South Punjab Secretariat subject to the condition that the expenditure involved will be met by the administrative departments out of their existing budgetary allocation during the current financial year 2023-24.

The new posts include special secretaries of Agriculture (south Punjab), C&W, Irrigation, L&DD, HUD&PHE, SHC&ME, P&SH, School Education and Higher Education department.

A senior official of South Punjab Secretariat, on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that the government was playing smartly as it has, in a way, abolished the post of ACS (south), along with seven other departments, including services, finance, home, local government and P&D, to render the south secretariat toothless.

The source said the cabinet would approve the rules and business of these new posts and the seven posts of secretaries concerned would get abolished automatically.

The source further said that the fully functional south secretariat would be relegated to the status of a sub-secretariat after completion of all these legalities in coming days.

Finance Department Secretary Mujahid Sherdil was not available for his comments.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2024

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