The government has turned down Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Iqbal’s request that Maqsood Ahmed Malik be given an extension as assembly secretary and instead plans to appoint an officer of the Pakistan Administrative Services, formerly known as the District Management Group, to the post, The Express Tribune has learnt.
A source privy to the development said that the speaker had told the government that there was no official in the Assembly Secretariat who could adequately replace Malik and his one-year contract, which expired a few days ago, should be extended. But Dr Tauqueer Shah, the secretary to the chief minister, instructed Iqbal not to extend the contract and hinted that a PAS officer would be given the job. Iqbal has appointed PA Special Secretary Aftab Joiya as acting secretary for the time being.
The secretary’s functions include managing legislative business, placing adjournment motions and call attention notices on the agenda of the house, organising foreign trips for lawmakers, recruiting assembly staff, guiding standing committees, and serving notices on public servants for breach of members’ privileges. It is a grade-21 post.
As the secretary has influence over the house agenda, the appointment of a handpicked PAS officer to the post would give greater control over the assembly to Dr Shah and, by extension, his boss Shahbaz Sharif. And since the secretary serves notices on public servants over breaches of privilege, having a loyalist bureaucrat in the post might make it harder for members to seek redress against other bureaucrats.
During the previous government’s term, Dr Shah had sought to exert control over legislators to ensure quorum in the house. He posted his staff to the gates of the assembly and they would stop members from leaving. Sometimes Dr Shah would himself stand at the main gate. If a treasury member defied him, the source said, he would seek to punish him by stopping his funding or by other means.
Malik, the source said, had often stood up to Dr Shah, refusing to comply with directions about what should and shouldn’t be on the agenda of the house or which member’s resolutions to ignore.
Dr Shah’s increasing control over the affairs of the assembly was illustrated recently when he had a room allocated to the deputy speaker’s staff vacated so he could use it himself.
According to the Punjab Provincial Assembly Secretariat (Recruitment and Conditions of Services) Rules of 1986, the PA secretary must have 25 years of service/experience of the assembly. Malik was recruited to the PA in 1976 and worked his way up to grade-21. The sources said that the rules would be relaxed in order to accommodate a DMG officer as secretary. The rules also state that the speaker has the power to extend or not extend the secretary’s contract.
Rana Iqbal feels that there are no officials in the secretariat fit to fill Malik’s shoes, said a source close to the speaker. The two most senior officials PA Special Secretary Aftab Maqbool Joiya and Senior Secretary Muhammad Khan Bhatti, both in grade-20 – in the secretariat were “political appointees” brought in by Chaudhry Pervez Elahi. Bhatti was a grade-7 clerk when he was brought in by Elahi, then the assembly speaker, in 1996. Joiya was an assistant director for local government when the former speaker appointed him as his staff officer in 1997.
The source said that the secretaries of the Sindh Assembly, the Senate and the National Assembly were all working on extensions. The speaker is said to be concerned that a DMG officer appointed as secretary would be a puppet of the chief minister’s secretary.
No DMG officer has served as secretary to the assembly, though the post has previously been filled by civil judges on deputation like current Law Secretary Najmul Hassan Najmi – and officers of the Law Department.
Abdul Qahar, the public relations officer to the speaker, confirmed that Malik’s contract had not been renewed and that Joiya had been made acting secretary, but refused to comment further.
Shah did not answer calls made to his mobile phone.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2013.
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