CS removal sets off rumour mills

New chief secretary to assume charge today

Rameez Khan April 25, 2020

LAHORE: The newly appointed chief secretary Punjab Jawwad Raffique Malik expected to take charge of his office (on Friday or Saturday), on the hand, the outgoing chief secretary Major (retd) Azam Suleman has been posted back to his previous posting as interior secretary.

The outgoing chief secretary Suleman, was posted in November last year, with the primary task to fix the administrative issues of Punjab.

He has been replaced by Communication Secretary Jawad Rafique Malik, a 22 grade, PAS officer, in a move that took much of the provincial administration by surprise.

The news of his removal kick-started a rumour mill with some speculating his removal due to his role in getting the wheat scandal report ready and some speculating his removal owing his role in Azma Gul’s property dispute. Some senior government officials, on the other hand, had claimed that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and many provincial cabinet ministers were not comfortable with the outgoing CS which is why he has been sent back to the federal government.

The decision to remove the chief secretary was taken in Islamabad during a meeting presided over Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by the Punjab CM and the governor, who were called to the capital on short notice.

In the backdrop of coronavirus pandemic clubbed with the administrative challenges of Ramazan, many government officers have criticised the timing of such a high profile transfer. They have claimed that the CM office wanted a major role in transfer postings, which would undermine the authority of the CS office. They said that the new CS would be expected to give the CM office to make major administrative decisions.

The notification in this regard was issued in the latter half of the day by Establishment Division, as the chief secretary Punjab, apparently clueless of the brewing development, continued to attend his official matters at his camp office, throughout the day.

Suleman even dubbed by many as the de facto chief minister of the province as it was said that he was working on direct instruction of the prime minister.

During his brief stint did manage to bring police and district administration on the same table, but besides that, he did not bring about any other visible change to improve the performance despite handpicking his entire team.

In the first few days of his posting, he changed portfolios of over 90 officers including, secretaries, commissioners and deputy commissioners etc.

Suleman started his stint posing as a strict commander, by repeatedly warning all officers in the field to “perform or go home” during his opening meetings.

The sources said Suleman was a difficult choice for the CS slot for the PTI government to begin with as it meant offending their old and trusted ally Pakistan Awami Tehreeq (PAT). PAT even wrote to the prime minister back in 2018, when his name was first reportedly considered for the coveted slot. At that time he was not given the position but late in November 2019, despite the political consequence, the PTI government brought him in.

A senior government official said they were getting information since the past week that the chief minister and many other ministers were not comfortable with the chief secretary. He said the government was changing a CS amid utterly surprising coronavirus situation.

On the other hand, Jawad Rafique Malik, the new Chief Secretary Punjab, was also not a novice to the province in any way, he had served as Lahore commissioner, health secretary and Board of Revenue senior member, to name a few.

There have rampant bureaucratic changes in Punjab since the PTI formed government in the province. At least five Inspector General of Police, or IGPs, had been transferred in less than one and a half year. Four IGPs who served before the incumbent Shoaib Dastagir included Captain (retd) Arif Nawaz Khan, Amjad Javed Saleemi, Muhammad Tahir and D Syed Kaleem Imam.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2020.