LAHORE - The intentions of Punjab government may not be doubted, yet the creation of Public Affairs Unit above the whole provincial administrative machinery has not left a good taste in the mouth of the public, parliamentarians and officialdom.
The establishment of the unit has drawn a lot of criticism by Opposition especially after certain media reports suggest Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, MNA and son of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, acts as the head of the unit and enjoy the powers of the ‘deputy chief minister’.
They claim the unit aims at providing an out-of-box platform to Hamza to groom himself for the slot of chief minister in the time to come.
Supposedly, if this assertion has the substance it shows a long and a short term planning at the level of the Sharifs. In short term, it is CM sharing burden of his responsibilities with his son as his paramount confidant and in long term, get him ready to perform as a full-fledged CM may be after the next elections to let Shahaz Sharif perform in the Centre.
Insiders in PML-N say the unit has been created to provide the CM some relaxation in his busy schedule and ill health. Officially, the impression that the unit has been set up in the interest of training Hamza for CM-ship has been dispelled, but it is only in words and no scheme of working of the unit has come forth to satisfy the detractors that the body will not meddle in the affairs of the other departments and will function within limits or its head will not have an upper hand.
The tasks reportedly assigned to the unit factually fall within the ambit of an elected government for their execution through a full-fledged machinery of the ministers and the bureaucracy who perform their functions under a legal and constitutional dispensation with a system of checks and balances. And about the unit the basic question arises as to its legal authenticity and whether Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, who has a big say in the party matters and is calling the shots in many areas, would not act as second in command of the CM as its head.
It is a fact that in the last PML-N government in Punjab, Hamza Shahaz Sharif had immensely motivated Punjab youth in the field of education and helped the CM in a big way in the laptop, solar lamps and funds distribution schemes.
Not that but in the field of sports, particularly in youth festival, Hamza became iconic for the young men. Hamza along with his cousin, Maryam Nawaz, got a big credit for galvanizing the public in favour of the PML-N in campaign for the May general elections. After the party won their role was highly lauded. In the last by-election, Hamza was incharge of party’s election campaign wherein he again proved his mettle, potential and political wisdom.
The said unit will be managed by the committee represented by MPAs, public officials and civil society members. The unit would act to coordinate efforts of different stakeholders to ensure effective delivery of key public services and prompt solution to public grievances. A big question mark will stay against the public departments and the ministers as to their capability and capacity to work if a unit or body outside their purview has to govern their working and pass instructions as the most well-versed, intelligent, competent and powerful entity. It would also mean a body represented by a handful of persons being supreme over all others on the administrative side. It would pale all others into insignificance. It will also put a question mark on the role of parliamentarians who legislate to run the government and hold the departments accountable for their inefficiency and wrong doing. Would this all-powerful body be accountable to anyone is a big question.
Interestingly, the move has come about when the Punjab Assembly is awaiting constitution of standing committees which in view of the members, needed formulation on an urgent basis than constitution of the unit. They say it shows where interest of the government lies and how serious is a matter of setting up the PA committees.