Ombudsman’s illegal acts

Ombudsman went ahead against advice from S&GAD.


Anwer Sumra March 28, 2012

LAHORE:


Ombudsman Khalid Mehmood has made 10 appointments on contract in his office in violation of the Punjab Ombudsman Act 1997, Article 18 of the Constitution and the recruitment rules of the Punjab government, The Express Tribune has learnt.


Mehmood made the appointments in grades 16-18 in December last year without advertising the posts, inviting applications or conducting an open competition, said an official on the condition of anonymity. Most of the recruits were not qualified for their new jobs, he said. The ombudsman also ignored the Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD)’s advice that he wasn’t the appointing authority.

“The ombudsman is meant to protect people’s rights, ensure adherence to the law and rectify injustices. This office has ignored the relevant act, the rules and ethical behaviour, which is a violation of the ombudsman’s oath,” said the official.

Mehmood, who was appointed in December 2008 for four years, said that his office was independent of the government and did not need to follow its recruitment rules. He said he had a “difference of opinion” with the S&GAD over the recruitments which would be resolved soon.

Letter to the S&GAD

Prior to making the appointments, the ombudsman wrote to the S&GAD last November asking about certain non-cadre posts, including computer programmer, senior law officer (BS-18), law officer, protocol officer (PO), public relations officer (PRO), administration and accounts officer, registrar, additional registrar, research officer (BS-17) and superintendents/private secretaries (BS-16). The ombudsman was seeking advice that would endorse his view that he could make the appointments.

But in its reply, the Regulation Wing of the S&GAD wrote that Section 20 of the Ombudsman Act enabled him to recruit advisors, consultants, fellows, bailiffs, interns, commissioners, experts and subordinate staff, but he did not have the authority to recruit or appoint officers in grades 16 to 18.

The Regulation Wing said that while the ombudsman was the authority in respect of appointment of staff on a regular or case-to-case basis, the government was the appointing authority in respect of all other posts. Sections 8 and 20 of the Act did not deal with the qualification, experience and other terms and conditions of service of the staff, it said. The ombudsman could not make appointments to non-cadre posts.

The Law and Parliamentary Affairs Department also opined that the ombudsman was not the appointing authority in non-cadre posts, said the Regulation Wing. “In any case, the ultimate decision lies with the government,” it said.

Despite the advice, the ombudsman went ahead with the appointments. The posts were not advertised so that eligible candidates could apply, which was a violation of Punjab government recruitment rules, as well as Article 18, which provided for freedom of profession, said the official.

The recruits include M Sabir Kabir as PRO. Kabir is the son of one of the ombudsman’s consultants and has an MBA degree, not relevant to his new job, said the official. Ahsan Ghani, brother of the Protocol director general, was appointed as PO, though he did not qualify.

The other appointees were Najamul Saqib as computer programmer (BS-18), Nadeem Gohar as admin and accounts officer, Ahsanul Haq as registrar, M Saleem Khan, Asifa Gul and Khalid Hussain as additional registrars, Shafiq Ahmed as research officer (BS-17) and Rana Bakhtyar Ahmed as private secretary (BS-16).

Mehmood said the office of ombudsman was an independent entity and government rules were not applicable in recruitments and appointments. He said the Ombudsman Act empowered him to recruit any person to any slot, but he did not explain how this view could be reconciled with provisions in the Ombudsman Act.

He said that a fuss was being made over the appointments at a time when the Punjab government had announced it would make all employees working on contract permanent.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.

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