As many as 134 bureaucrats — including 44 in Islamabad and 90 in Punjab — got their transfer orders last Friday. Making the postings and transfers more curious was the reputations enjoyed by some of the people removed from top posts and those that replaced them. At least one officer was removed and made Officer on Special Duty (OSD) just weeks before his retirement. While most bureaucrats will have to spend time as OSDs at different points in their careers for a variety of reasons, it has also been used by political leaders to punish officers who refuse illegal or nonsensical orders without violating any rules. It is also rare for a career officer to be removed from a post just days before the end of one’s career.
Nevertheless, a major bureaucratic reshuffle in Punjab, the country biggest and the most important province, had become inevitable after Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his dissatisfaction with the administrative structure of the province and granted the provincial government free rein to remove civil servants that were hindering government business. The orders at the provincial level came on the heels of the first meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and the new Punjab Chief Secretary, Major (retd) Azam Suleman.
Meanwhile, speaking at a meeting with bureaucrats in Lahore, the Prime Minister reiterated that “the old system can no longer work in Naya Pakistan”, while stressing that they needed to bring improvement in the lives of the poor of the country. While praising Chief Minsiter Buzdar’s performance so far, the Prime Minister claimed that the reforms implemented during the PTI government’s tenure were unprecedented, but seemed to blame bureaucrats for not publicising them well enough. But most tellingly, the Prime Minister promised that the tenure of the new team would be protected and that he would not give in to political pressure.
Given that the bureaucracy is supposed to be apolitical, and the Prime Minister just sent more than 100 officers packing well before their tenures had ended, this promise will do little to reassure officers at the Centre or in the provinces.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2019.