LAHORE  -  Benazir Bhutto, as prime minister, once came to address the under-training officers at the Pakistan Administrative Staff College in Lahore. As she finished her speech, she invited questions.

An officer complained that ministers in most of the cases don’t follow the rules and regulations and don’t change their opinion even when their secretaries tell them what they want to do will amount to violating the procedure.

Benazir Bhutto lost temper and said bureaucrats can send back a file to the minister only once to point out the rules and regulations. If a minister still insists on doing something, officers are not supposed to oppose him. If the politicians do something wrong, they will face the consequences, said a fuming Benazir, making it clear that officers have to stay within their limits.

This was sufficient to let all the participants understand that political leaders’ opinion will prevail, no matter whether it is right or wrong.

After being dismissed both the times on corruption and other charges, she faced a number of cases. Still, the 2008-13 PPP government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, did not learn any lessons from the fate of the two previous governments. The prime ministers and ministers did what they wanted to do and the country paid the price. They appointed Tauqir Sadiqs, Deedar Shahs, Fasih Bokharis, Husain Haqqanis and Wajid Shamsul Hasans to serve their own interests, as a result of which the system stood destroyed.

The PML-N leaders, it seems, want to “outperform” the PPP by destroying whatever is still left of the system.

Many important positions are occupied by the members and relatives of the Sharif family. And cronies are being looked for to fill the remaining posts, as and when they fall vacant. The slogans of merit and pure merit raised during the election campaign have been forgotten in less than two months after the polls.

The decision about the new Punjab governor should be an eye-opener.

The post fell vacant when Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood tendered resignation after the rout of the PPP in the May 11 elections. And the Sharifs have decided to “import” a man from Britain to fill the slot.

Chaudhry Sarwar, who will occupy the top constitutional office of the country’s most populous province, is a British national. In fact, he is an MP. Hailing from Toba Tek Singh district of Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar settled in Britain long ago and today he owns a big business network there.

A senior journalist, who is like a member of the Sharif family, reported on Sunday that Chaudhry Sarwar had helped the Sharifs in legal matters when they had arrived in London from Jeddah during their stay in exile. “The two brothers remember this help.”

Defending the decision, the journalist said the rich experience of Chaudhry Sarwar of the British system would benefit the province.

But the question remains: Is it fair to give the province’s top office to a man only because the leadership of the ruling PML-N is beholden to him? Is there not a single person out of 90 million in Punjab to serve as governor? Should it not be taken as an insult to the entire province?

Ironically, the decision has been taken immediately after the appointment of acting Punjab advocate general, which has been challenged in court. Mustafa Ramday, whose appointment has been challenged, is the son of former Supreme Court judge Khalilur Rehman Ramday, whose links to the Sharif family are too well known. Ramday’s brother Chaudhry Farooq was also attorney general in the PML-N government.

If the Sharifs wanted to repay Chaudhry Sarwar for the favour he had done to them, they should have appointed him the head of all their industrial projects. Also, they could have allotted any unit(s) to him as a token of gratitude. The people of Punjab should not be made to pay for the favour that the British national did to the Sharifs.

There is no denying the fact that Chaudhry Sarwar is a capable leader and it is because of his capabilities that rose to prominence even in Britain. But Sharifs should not “rob Peter to pay Paul”, as they say.

Chaudhry Sarwar should also understand that the way he is going to be “honoured” is not permissible in the British society. He knows the kind of consequences any “benefactor or beneficiary” in a similar situation in Britain may have to face.

If Sarwar accepts the post, turning his back on propriety and fairness, it can be assumed that he has learnt nothing from decades of his stay in Britain and his thinking is as rules-free as of anybody of the Islamic Republic.

It is unfortunate that he has agreed to surrender his British nationality only to be eligible to become Punjab governor. Had he really been interested in serving Punjab, which he claims to be, he should have given up British citizenship without being offered the governorship.

All political parties must evolve some procedures for the appointment of governors, ministers, ambassadors and special assistants, etc. No individual, not even the prime minister or chief minister, should be empowered to appoint any Tom, Dick and Harry on these positions. In case the discretionary powers continue to stay with the head of government, cronyism will not come to an end.

The courts which take suo motu notice of much minor issues should also play their role in such matters. If opposition parties fail to play a role, courts shouldn’t.