Chief Secretary should be answerable to provincial government

Irrespective of all the subjects which have been devolved to provinces, provincial autonomy will still be a myth if the Chief Secretary is not answerable to the provincial government in letter and spirit

Shoaib Mir, A BS-21 officer of Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), was appointed as the new Chief Secretary Balochistan, on 4th March. Outgoing Chief Secretary, Saifullah Chattha retired from service on 3rd March after serving in Balochistan on top bureaucratic post for almost 3 years. This was a major news in Balochistan and a lot of people issued welcoming press statements for the new Chief Secretary.

Chief Secretary is the administrative boss of the province. He is the top administrative authority in the province and can choke the entire bureaucratic process if he wants to. At the present moment the competent authority to appoint Chief Secretary of the provinces is Prime Minister of Pakistan. This means provinces have no say in appointment of their administrative boss. They can exert political pressure but Prime Minister has to make the final call. So, this is a negation of basic essence of provincial autonomy. This loophole was either missed out or deliberately ignored during their 18th Amendment negotiations in 2010. As a result the provinces are still dependent on the whims of a federally sent officer for smooth functioning of their bureaucratic setup.

Outgoing Chief Secretary of Balochistan Saifullah Chattha had become way too controversial in his last days. Many ministers and members of provincial Assembly of ruling coalition publically complained against the uncooperative behavior of last Chief Secretary. A provincial minister even used to call him viceroy of the province. He also shut down his office in protest against the uncooperative behavior of the Chief Secretary. In addition to that more than one member of ruling PML-N personally confided to this scribe that Chief Secretary has deliberately stopped progress on a lot of important summaries. Even in last few months before his retirement government members were making no efforts for approving their summaries but only waiting for Mr. Chattha to go.

Moreover, many vocal members within the Balochistan assembly blame outgoing chief secretary for involvement in the infamous local government corruption scandal for which Khalid Langove and Mushtaq Raisani are still under custody. They alleged that it was not possible that billions of rupees were embezzled from the local government funds without involvement of the Chief Secretary. It’s quite possible that these allegations are being levelled against former Chief Secretary by people who have some sort of grudge against him. Still, a transparent inquiry into the matter was required which would unfold the truth. However, we all know that it’s never going to happen.

Likewise, the appointment of chief secretary by the federal government and his uncooperative behavior with the provincial government is tantamount to remote controlling Balochistan from Islamabad. When an officer who has arrived from Islamabad disobeys the provincial chief executive then what else can it be? Irrespective of all the subjects which have been devolved to provinces, provincial autonomy will still be a myth if the Chief Secretary is not answerable to the provincial government in letter and spirit.

In this context, the genuine and justified demand is that the Chief Secretary of any province should be subservient to the top political leadership of the same province. Although the Chief Minister, on paper, is the boss of the Chief Secretary but if the latter decides to go rogue and puts up a rogue behavior then former has no choice but to request to Prime Minister to transfer the Chief Secretary. This is nothing short of a joke and not a sustainable model of good governance. Therefore, the competent authority for Chief Secretary of the province and Inspector General of the province should be the chief minister of the same province and not the Prime Minister.

Moreover, political parties in Balochistan should resist an uncooperative Chief Secretary rather than complaining about him in drawing rooms. Many politicians started criticizing the Chief Secretary the very next day he left the office. This is a defeatist approach and they should have criticized him for the wrongdoings when he was in the office and not immediately after he left.

Another thing to mention is that just a few days after taking charge, the incumbent Chief Secretary paid a surprise visit to different bazaars in Quetta city and reprimanded the concerned authorities for their incompetence. These sort of visits are nothing short of media stunts and there is no justification for them. Good governance can’t be ensured by such sporadic visits but by correcting the flaws in the system. New Chief Secretary should not follow the footsteps of his predecessors and should go for system overhaul as opposed to media stunts.

Lastly, it’s important to clarify that it doesn’t mean in any way that Chief Secretary Office or his appointment by Prime Minister is the only or biggest governance related problem in the province. There are loads of other problems ranging from incompetence and corruption of bureaucracy to lack of political will and rampant corruption by the politicians. Notwithstanding these harsh realities, the issue of subservience of Chief Secretary to provincial government is a very crucial issue and needs to be addressed for the sake of good governance and provincial autonomy in the province.

Adnan Aamir is Editor of Balochistan Voices; Balochistan’s premier English-Language online newspaper. He is also a freelance journalist contributing for national newspapers. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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