A hot button issue during the last government, south Punjab’s plight has been out of the news since the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz swept to power last year.
However, the party has been quietly dealing with the matter and while the question of a separate province is off the cards, another drastic change is being mulled currently: the setting up of a ‘mini-secretariat’ in Multan, the largest city of south Punjab
There has been some back and forth between two different thoughts on the decentralisation matter: one, the mini-secretariat and the other proposing a simple empowering of the local administration.
Last month Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif constituted a 64-member committee, comprising senators, members of national and Punjab assemblies – belonging to south Punjab – as well as all the secretaries, including the additional chief secretary.
The committee, headed by Hamza Shahbaz, had formed subcommittees for different departments and areas, the most important of which is the administrative committee preparing the administrative and financial plans and suggestions.
The subcommittee has thus far held three meetings and proposed a preliminary report for decentralisation and division of powers of 14 departments – including Police, Board of Revenue, Agriculture, Local Government, Education, PWD, Health, Live Stock, Auqaf, Cooperative, Excise and Taxation, Food, Benevolent Fund and Finance – between the south and the rest of Punjab.
It has also been proposed to divide Social security, worker welfare fund and to establish permanent board of revenue for south Punjab.
According to sources, all the elected members of the subcommittee had developed consensus for posting special secretaries of certain departments for south Punjab which will lessen the burden of the civil secretariat Lahore. Moreover, this will also redress the grievances of the people of south Punjab, where the concept of ‘Takht-e-Lahore’ (rule of Lahore) is strong.
The main principal secretariat will be policymaking office with consultation of special secretaries for south Punjab and implementation will be through the branch secretariat in Multan. Sources said elected representatives in the committee apprised participants that staunch supporters of a new province have also appreciated the idea of a branch secretariat in south Punjab. This proposal seems to have the support of all the elected representatives on the committee.
However, the posting out of secretaries from Lahore has received staunch opposition from some senior bureaucrats, who want to stay in the provincial capital. They are proposing enhancing the administrative and financial powers at the division level instead of posting some special secretaries over there.
The preliminary report on this matter was submitted in a meeting held on Saturday (April 5) in Lahore under the chairmanship of Hamza Shahbaz. After detail discussion, it was decided that a final report should be prepared after further deliberation.
The sources said party leadership asked Hamza to control bureaucracy in the committee and to induct their suggestions including establishment of mini secretariat. They told Hamza that if steps such as a mini-secretariat were not taken, it might have damaging repercussions for the PML-N in the region.
On Hamza’s direction the next meeting of this subcommittee is scheduled for April 9 at the Civil Secretariat, Lahore. After its final report, Hamza is expected to preside over an overall committee meeting on April 10 to give the go-ahead for implementation.
Three other subcommittees, on health, education and road infrastructure communications, have almost finalised their drafts too.
Additional director general health, director public instructions (DPI) Colleges and schools would be shifted to south Punjab. Chief engineers in irrigation, building, highways and roads at present working in Lahore would also be shifted to south.
When approached, PML-N’s Senator Rafique Rajwana, who heads the financial and administrative subcommittee, told The Express Tribune that the government was indeed endeavouring to redress the grievances of south Punjab through empowerment.
He refused to comment on disagreement between bureaucrats and elected representatives over a mini-secretariat at Multan. He said that their main focus is to empower south Punjab and how to transfer financial and administrative powers. Development and other related issues would be discussed later.