Punjab CS reaches end of his tether, goes on leave ‘for good’ – Newspaper

LAHORE: “Frustrated and disheartened” over the working of his office under the current political set-up and with repeated pleas for transfer out of the province going unheeded, Punjab Chief Secretary (CS) Kam­ran Ali Afzal finally decided to quit his post and proceed on leave for two weeks.

The development comes just a few days after Mr Afzal had once again requested Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to transfer him out of Punjab due to his inability to work with the PTI and PML-Q coalition government in the province. He is said to have been troubled by the transfers and postings of officers “against merit”, as well as the security of tenure of officers across Punjab.

The Punjab Services and General Administration Department has granted an earned leave to Mr Afzal, and entrusted the charge of routine work of the chief secretary’s office to Planning and Development Board Chairman Abdullah Khan Sumbal from Sept 16 to 30.

Sources in the bureaucracy believe Mr Afzal has left his office for good; he expects the federal government to post his replacement during his leave or he will have his leave extended.

They also maintain the chief secretary’s sudden departure will cause serious administrative and governance issues, as the province is currently mired in multiple crises ranging from floods, dengue, prices of essential commodities and agriculture.

CS Afzal had been repeatedly requesting for his transfer from Punjab since the PTI-PML-Q coalition took over once again.

Back in April, when they were in opposition, the two parties had accused him of leaning towards the PML-N, during the episode of Hamza Shehbaz’s election as the chief minister in the Punjab Assembly and his subsequent oath ceremony at the Governor House under police cover.

Both CS Afzal and then-police chief Rao Sardar Ali Khan had requested transfers out of the province soon after the PTI had swept the July 17 by-elections in the province. Mr Khan’s request, though, had been granted around a week later.

Mr Afzal told Dawn he had absolutely no leanings whatsoever towards any political party. He said he had managed Hamza’s election and the oath ceremony on the orders of the Lahore High Court.

“Any assumption of political leanings will be completely erroneous,” he said, adding: “I, however, do try to live by a certain set of values and this is the whole truth.”

Chief Minister Parvez Elahi was initially furious over the April episode in the assembly, but later accepted Mr Afzal. The CS, however, continued facing problems in ensuring transfers and postings on merit and the security of tenure of officers, and had to shuffle the bureaucracy after the change of government in Punjab.

CM Elahi was also asking the chief secretary and the new police chief to take action against the officers who were involved in the alleged torture of PTI leaders and workers during their long march on Islamabad on May 25. Over the same episode, the Punjab government had eventually surrendered several senior officers to the federal government, including the capital city police officer and Lahore deputy inspector general of police, Special Branch additional inspector general and a few district police chiefs. The Lahore police had also transferred 25 station house officers.

While some sources claim the chief minister indeed ignored the chief secretary in the matter of transfers and postings of senior officers – and cited the postings of several officers, including Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister Muhammad Khan Bhatti, Lahore Commissioner Aamir Jan and Local Government Secretary Mubashir Hassan – others believe there is more to it than meets the eye.

On not taking the CS into confidence, a senior officer said there were several instances when the head of an institution was not asked about postings of his subordinates. “It is the duty of the head to put his subordinates to work and get the optimum output while monitoring regularly,” the officer said.

After Mr Afzal’s multiple requests to the PML-N-led coalition government in the centre for withdrawal of his services from Punjab had gone unheeded, he wrote a formal letter last month citing “personal reasons” for the request.

However, Mr Afzal’s request was not entertained. Earlier this week, the chief secretary had yet again expressed his resolve to leave his office, and told officers, including commissioners and deputy commissioners, in a dengue review meeting that he had requested the federal government once again for a transfer. He had even told the officers this would be his last meeting with them.

The CS told Dawn he had always spoken about a citizen-centric bureaucracy grounded in the politics-administration dichotomy, which required appointments based on merit and security of tenure. He said he tried his best to achieve this, and to some extent even did.

“But with three governments in four months, this became increasingly difficult. If I cannot protect my officers and the basic ethos of the civil service, where is the honour in staying?” he asked, adding: “My issue is not political leanings, it is good governance.”

Soon after CS Afzal’s Aug 7 letter, CM Elahi had sent a panel of three senior officers – Cabinet Secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera, Abdullah Sumbal and former Board of Revenue senior member Babar Hayat Tarar — to the federal government for posting of one as the Punjab chief secretary.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2022