There is a popular saying in Pakistan, never leave your seat or someone else will take it. In the government, this also applies to houses, even if they were never ‘yours’ to begin with.
The housing ministry is in a fix as a number of retired bureaucrats are refusing to pack up and leave the official houses they were allocated during their service tenure.
The Ministry of Housing and Works lists three former inspectors general (IGs) of police, federal secretaries and others as among 350 ex-officials who are squatting in government houses, refusing to return possession to the ministry and depriving the new allottees of their rights. Some officials have been retired for well over a year.
“It has become a real nuisance for ministry staff. We have hundreds of government officials on the waiting list, but some officials are simply refusing to comply with our requests and even court orders,” said an official who was not authorised to talk to the media.
Top cops who have yet to vacate their residences include former motorways police chief Zulfiqar Cheema, Sindh police chief Shahid Nadeem Baloch, and former federal secretary Dr Shoaib Suddle.
Suddle had served at various important positions in Islamabad and the provinces’ governments. Suddle cited security concerns as the reason for overstaying his welcome. He also sent two letters to the housing ministry expressing these security concerns and requesting that the ministry charge him monthly rent instead.
Meanwhile, former principal secretary to the Sindh chief minister Rai Sikandar has been retired for eight months, but is still staying in an official residence.
Ministry officials sometimes need to be accompanied by the police when getting residences vacated. According to the ministry’s record, about 23,000 applications from staffers in grades one through 22 are pending with the ministry.
“It is more about policing and less about the housing ministry… We are always struggling to cope with the high requirement and low availability of houses,” said another ministry officer.
No honour among thieves
Meanwhile, serving officers, including police officials, are illegally occupying official residences as well. Islamabad City Superintendent of Police Rizwan Omar Gondal, for example, is living in a house that has not been allotted to him, and has even stationed policemen outside his house to scare off anyone who tries to serve an eviction notice.
Similarly, Islamabad Additional Deputy Commissioner Abdul Sattar has illegally occupied a government residence in Sector G-7/3.
As cops are often reluctant to file cases against their own, the ministry has come up with a desperate solution.
“We have started allotting such disputed houses to judges, as they can use their influence to get the house vacated,” said an officer.
Another issue is when officials approaching retirement go to the courts and obtain stay orders after claiming that one their children will soon be appointed in a government office.
At the same time, some outgoing officers demand that the new allottees refund them for repairs or upgrades to the government house, even though this is flatly illegal.
The ministry is often blamed for this, but according to the ministry, the issue of refunds is between the former and current allottee. The claims are usually for money spent on renovation, furniture, gardening, and other work on the properties paid for by the allottees. In most cases, such work, when legal, is directly refundable via the ministry or the allottee’s own department.
“Recently, an officer leaving a house asked the new allottee to pay him Rs1 million for renovation work,” said an estate office official, adding that the allottee later learnt that all the work had been done and paid for by the Capital Development Authority.
Housing and Works Joint Secretary Akhtar Jan Wazir told The Express Tribune that they were sending the retired officials final notices to vacate their residences or face judicial action.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2015.