LAHORE - The creation of the South Punjab province remains a dream but the PTI government has announced a big step towards this direction by announcing the establishment of a mini-secretariat in Multan or Bahawalpur. But how far this move will serve the purpose is a question of great concern not only for the government but also for the people as well as officers belonging to that area.

Officials hailing from the southern part of the province who are working in different government departments and the public at large has welcomed setting up of an administrative unit there, terming it a bold and important step towards the ultimate creation of a new province out of the existing Punjab.

Some of them however suggested that instead of one, the government should create three mini secretariats – one each at Bahawalpur, Multan and Rawalpindi.

Questions have also been raised about the powers of the mini secretariat announced for southern Punjab. Those apprehensive on this count say that without administrative authority the mini-headquarter would further add to the miseries of people and officers.

Requesting anonymity, a former chief secretary of the province said the appointment of an assistant chief secretary (ACS) and special secretaries (SS) would not deliver if they are not given powers.

The ACS, according to the Rules of Business, can only transfer and post officials up to grade 17 and a special secretary up to grade 18. All other cases regarding transfers, postings, inquiries, promotions etc are forwarded to the CM office through the Chief Secretary office.

If the CM doesn’t delegate his powers to the ACS and special secretaries posted in the mini-secretariat then the situation could even get worse, he said. The ACS therefore should be given authority to tackle officers of the management and administrative services besides other departmental officials, the retired officer proposed.

Moreover, the government should also create new slots of the Additional Director Generals (Addl DGs) of all the departments like Anti-Corruption, Livestock, Agriculture etc with powers of the DG, the ex-CS further proposed. Otherwise, he said, all the matters of all the departments would be sent to provincial headquarter Lahore for approval.

Likewise, the SS (a category 1 officer) should be given all the powers of the secretary by fresh notification to avoid legal technicalities, the retired bureaucrat suggested. The CM should have posting authority with him of only administrative officers like Commissioners, DCs, RPOs, DPOs etc while the cases of all other officers including doctors and teachers should be handled in the mini-secretariat, he added.

An officer of the S&GAD told that former CM Shehbaz Sharif had initiated an exercise of delegating some of his powers to administrative secretaries. Later, the proposal was shelved as the then PML-N political bigwigs had blocked this move arguing that it would weaken the CM office. Sharif had also constituted a committee to handle the South Punjab province issue which failed to confront the matter.

The CM office would never like to surrender its authority on transfers and postings as it empowers bureaucracy at the cost of political control, he said. It therefore would be a test case for the PTI CM Sardar Usman Buzdar.

The officer said that ‘micro-management’ of administrative affairs by the CM just for political advantage was a negative practice. The provincial chief executive should avoid indulging into affairs of doctors, teachers and focus on policy making instead, the officer suggested.

The ACS should be given command by the CM to transfer and post officers of up to grade 19 and 20 – except for the commissioners, DCs, RPOs and DPOs.

The ACS and his team of special secretaries could initially be empowered through an executive order and subsequently the requisite amendments in the Rules of Business and Financial Rules could be made by the provincial assembly.

Appointment of officers in the new mini-secretariat would be another issue for the PTI government. Will officers eagerly go to the mini-headquarter, away from the major power centre (Lahore), or be forced to serve there?

The government might need to announce special incentives for the officers to move from Lahore to Multan or Bahawalpur.

Moreover, establishment of new offices and GORs and appointments of officers along with ministerial staff would be a financial liability on the government.

Council head on the matter of new province and federal minister Tariq Bashir Cheema was not available to comment on the matter. Cheema, reportedly, had opposed making Multan the mini-secretariat headquarter and instead proposed Bahawalpur as the regional administrative seat.

The role of Punjab CM Buzdar, PTI leader Jehangir Tareen and foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi could be influential in finalising the headquarter of the new administrative unit. Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to settle this issue in upcoming days.

An officer said the conversion of the official business to online automation could solve many issues regarding the administrative dissolution, besides curbing red-tape. He said that through the PITB the CM office should focus on making the filing system online to prompt service delivery.