LAHORE - Even as the government appointed Justice (r) Shoaib Saeed as Punjab Services Tribunal (PST) Chairman after a lapse of about five months to clear backlog of around 7000 service matters, two slots of tribunal members seats are still lying vacant.

At present, out of six slots for PST members, four are filled while two are still lying vacant.

The former PST chairman, Justice (r) Saeed Akhtar, was retired on January 1, 2015. Since then the PST affairs were being run on stopgap arrangement. A PST member Session Judge Hafeezullah Khan was entrusted with the duties of chairmanship.

Besides the appointment of regular PST chairman, the government could not make arrangements for the posting of members against the vacant slots, which led to multiplication of the cases to about 7,000.

Sources in the Punjab government said that the posting of the members was also under consideration and the S&GAD had forwarded the panels to the chief minister for initial approval. They confirmed that the tribunal office had conveyed to the S&GAD that the empty slots should be filled soon.

However, they disclosed that many of the bureaucrats were not willing to be posted as PST members because they had to draw normal salaries as per their pay scales unlike the PST chairman who enjoys privileges of a High Court judge, they held.

A former PST member conditioning anonymity told this correspondent that the members had to travel on old official vehicles besides no other incentives. Other reason, he quoted, “though the PST is considered equal to the High Court, its decisions are taken seriously by provincial authorities and they are not implemented in letter and spirit.”

He stressed that the law must be amended to ensure implementation of its decisions besides entrusting the tribunal with the contempt powers.

He said that the tribunal also lacked financial autonomy. Though the tribunal was equal to the High courts, its employees were not given judicial allowance equal to the high courts’ employees.

When government departments don’t implement the provincial departments easily why any officer or judge would prefer to be the PST member, he questioned. He said the government should also consider such lacunas in the services tribunal that had to deal with thousands of employees. He suggested the government should complete the process of appointing PST chairman and its members before retirement of the outgoing one.

The PST hears government servants’ petitions against the injustice of authorities and appeals regarding dismissal from service; stoppage of increments; seniority disputes among colleagues or different service groups, award of penalties; forfeit of service etc, the member held. He maintained the government should not ignore it and direct the public bodies to implement its decisions in letter and spirit.

It is relevant to be mentioned here that former CJP Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Ch had said that the executive could not be allowed to interfere in the process of appointment of such important functionaries of Tribunals i.e. Chairman, who was required to be appointed independently because while discharging its functions the tribunal did not act as an executive body rather performed judicial functions.

He had also pointed out that the Service Tribunals Acts did not contain any specific provision for financial autonomy of the Tribunals. Thus, the Service Tribunals could not discharge their functions independently, he had stressed.

“The Tribunals must be duly empowered to disburse their annual funds, allocated by the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies, in their respective annual budgets, within the prescribed limit by the Chairman of the respective Tribunals, without the need to seek approval of the Finance Ministry or provincial Finance Department,” he added.