‘Humiliation’ in name of accountability: Many bureaucrats hesitant to hold key posts

LAHORE: A number of bureaucrats who worked for the previous government or sidelined by it but are considered honest or otherwise are reluctant to hold important decision-making posts, especially those involving big money or major decision as they dread court bashing, the NAB inquiries or threats by politicians.

Those sidelined by a government normally yearn for key positions in the next set-up particularly if it is led by an erstwhile opposition party as they try to play victims of the past rulers. But this time a number of senior, mid-career and junior administrative officers who were not given key posts by the Shahbaz government despite being honest say they cannot afford public bashings for administrative work.

“To err is human. There is a difference between an inadvertent error and an action with criminal intent. Unfortunately, they are being considered as one. I joined the superior service to serve honourably. I have a clean service record and I don’t want to hold a big decision-making or any post involving big spending so as to avoid any bashing by anyone,” a senior Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) officer told Dawn.

Sidelined by the Shahbaz government, he held an important position during the Punjab caretaker government. He and other officers like him who talked on the condition of anonymity cited the recent example of Inspector General of Police Dr Kaleem Imam’s appearance in the court on the issue of the transfer of the Pakpattan DPO.

A secretary said one of his colleagues, considered an honest officer, was given a key post during the caretaker government. He did not take any major decision but still desired a side posting now. The reason simply is that he did not want any public humiliation or inquiry.

“The post he intends to leave was considered one of the major key places during the Shahbaz government. It involved big money and important work and the gentleman who held it in the past was considered very close to the provincial chief executive. Now he is facing NAB inquiries,” the secretary said.

He and others said all officers were not corrupt or beneficiaries of the previous regime but they were fearful, especially of handling files involving big money or projects. Making even the junior officials who joined public companies for a slightly better pay package, return the salaries is enough to intimidate the government machinery. The decision to get back the salaries was made without differentiating who plundered the public money or who got little relief for their families.

The officials said they were not against accountability of the corrupt or the inefficient. But this must be done without intimidating the entire government machinery. There are departments which have extremely heavy file work, making it hard for the authorities to sign papers after studying all the files.

Under the normal practice, the secretaries tend to sign the files while trusting the work by their junior colleagues with the objective of making quick decisions. But this could lead to mistakes. Checking all the documents to avoid any mistake would mean a huge pile up of cases.

“You know what could be the consequence of making a financial mistake under the prevailing conditions. It dreads me,” a secretary said.

The secretaries said the administrative secretaries were not specialists of a certain subject but they could be asked to handle any subject. Generally, it took some time for a secretary to understand the nature of a work of a new place and during this period he could make mistakes. But the present conditions proved that such mistakes could be dubbed as decisions with criminal intent.

The secretaries said only the government could easily understand a difference between a mistake and wrong with criminal intent and it, therefore, had formulated its internal accountability methods.

Under the law, an investigation agency is ought to prove someone guilty. But here an allegation is leveled against an official and then he/she is asked to prove his/her innocence.

“This is contrary to the resumption of innocence. Many departments like education, health, communication and works irrigation, local government, finance and home have to operate in grey areas. And this mean those running them are weaving ropes around their necks,” an official said.

The government must use its official checks and balances system to give confidence to the official machinery if it wants a smooth working. It could hold inquiry against any government official under several laws and refer the case of anyone found corrupt to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or anti-corruption establishment. It could also proceed against inefficient official.

“An inquiry is based on evidence, and one is not humiliated even if one is found guilty of any misconduct. But here officials are being called for interrogation on even anonymous applications and are humiliated,” a secretary complained.

He said under a long standing tradition, a senior official could refuse a posting without being victimised by the government, and a number of senior PAS officials were thinking of using this option. Imposing a posting on an unwilling intimidated officer would not deliver anything to anyone.

“In Britain, every minister is considered responsible for any action taken by the officials of his department under the rule of ministerial responsibility. But here the case is different. The previous chief minister and his cabinet members are comfortably sitting either in assemblies or in their homes while those who obeyed their orders are facing the music. Adoption of the ministerial responsibility concept like the UK will give due confidence to the administrative machinery, allowing them to implement policies of politicians without any fear,” another senior official suggested.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2018

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