Caretaker Chief Minister Najam Sethi has said he will shuffle the bureaucracy over the next seven days in order to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.
“I will not allow any bureaucrat in Punjab to interfere with the election process or create hurdles to holding transparent elections,” Sethi told a press conference on Wednesday, shortly after he was sworn in by Governor Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood at a ceremony in Darbar Hall in Governor’s House.
Though the Election Commission of Pakistan banned the transfers of civil servants across the country a day earlier, Sethi said the changes would be made in consultation with the ECP.
If the chief election commissioner or the Supreme Court instructed him to transfer an officer in the Punjab, he would do so regardless of his grade, he said. He added that he believed that transfers were needed in order to satisfy those who might raise questions about the transparency of the elections. He would make random changes in the bureaucracy in the coming seven days.
“If we get to know, through the media or other means, that some bureaucrat is involved in corruption, or has become a hurdle to fair elections, he will be dealt with,” he said. The bureaucracy often created hurdles in the functioning of the government, so he would keep an eye on them.
About the caretaker cabinet, Sethi said that he had wanted to appoint two ministers and use the bureaucracy to manage provincial affairs, but it had been suggested to him that he needed at least 10 people in the cabinet. He said that the mandate of the caretaker setup was to conduct transparent, free and fair elections, not to devise policies or initiate projects.
He said that law and order would be his highest priority since terrorism was a threat to the holding of elections. He said that he would not tolerate poor law and order, particularly sectarianism and violence against minorities. He would have zero tolerance for officers who fail to take action against those who incite violence against religious minorities. He said that he would discuss security issues with the chief justice of the Lahore High Court.
Sethi said that the opposition parties had showed their faith in journalists by making him caretaker chief minister, so he appealed to the press to help him identify illegal practices in the province. Journalists, both those outside the government and those in the government (Sethi), now had a chance to prove themselves.
He said that he had told his staff that his official day would not start at 9am, but at 10am since he had to read the newspapers in the morning. Journalist’s opinions and reports would be taken seriously and he would remain in touch with members of the press.
The caretaker chief minister also sought to convey a message to his relatives, friends and acquaintances. “During my tenure, I have no friends or relatives. If the media finds anyone close to me getting benefits from the government, he or she will not be spared,” he said.
About his protocol, he said that he had told his staff not to stop traffic or give him too many guards, but the Punjab government had informed him that he was a high-value target and needed more security.
Asked if he would recommend a change in the governor’s office, he said that was a function of the president, not of the chief minister.
Asked why former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had not come to the oath-taking ceremony, he said that he had talked with him on the telephone and he had his full support.
A six-member Punjab Assembly committee chose Sethi out of four candidates to be caretaker chief minister on Tuesday. Committee members, senior bureaucrats and famous journalists also attended the ceremony.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2013.