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Monday, 5 October 2009

We need more people like Maryam


Monday, October 05, 2009
Syed Anwar Mahmood (The News)

Maryam Gilani has done us proud. She has also set an example for her peers and colleagues to follow. And she has put to shame the senior ones who lost the opportunity in their careers to say no to orders that were not legal and which violated the rules.

Maryam is a young officer who joined the Pakistan Railways Service through the Central Superior Services (CSS) examination only a few years ago. She is upright and courageous and upholds merit in public service. Looking after the personnel branch at Pakistan Railways’ Rawalpindi Division, Maryam refused to issue letters of appointment to candidates on the list reportedly sent by the Minister for Railways. The minister had allegedly sent a list of candidates, all belonging to his constituency, to be appointed against the available vacancies. Obliging the minister would have meant ignoring all other applicants who were otherwise eligible for appointment based on the laid down criteria.

Maryam said her boss, the Divisional Superintendent of Railways, asked her to oblige the minister and find out ways to circumvent the rules, criteria and even the quota system. Maryam refused saying she could not violate the rules and ignore merit. Retaliation was quick to come. Maryam was placed under suspension. Undeterred, she is resolute in her conviction that appointments in public service should be based on merit and not ‘sifarish’. She is also ready to face the consequences of her stand and is seeking relief under the law. Since the matter is subjudice, I shall not comment on it any further.

Comments, however, will continue to be made on the courage and character demonstrated by this young officer. These are qualities that were once the hallmark of our civil services. These are qualities that have generally evaporated from the cadres of the same for many reasons, not the least being lack of security of service and poor compensation.

The new-born state of Pakistan, fragile, resource starved and inundated by millions of refugees not only survived but continued to grow from strength to strength only because it had inherited a cadre of civil servants who valued merit, were bold and courageous and were motivated to serve. Some of them later meddled in politics, to the great detriment of the country but none of them were blamed for corruption. The purge done by Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was more political and had little to do with the desire to eradicate corruption. The accountability process continues to suffer from this malaise to this day.

What Maryam did in the course of her duty is indeed credible. Such acts should be the norm in public service. Unfortunately, however, these are the exceptions. Such is the state of our governance that the alleged desire of the minister is taken as part of the political culture. Confronted with this allegation on Geo TV’s ‘Capital Talk’, the minister did not deny the action, saying only that he had not written the list himself. Obviously, Ministers do not write themselves. They have such lists prepared by others. No thought is given to the fact that favouring some one unduly has to be at the cost of some one deserving. That surely must have been the consideration Maryam had when she refused to act against the rules. She deserves all round support, especially from the media. Unfortunately however, while we watch and read comments on many issues of the day, those like Maryam’s draw little attention. One must commend Hamid Mir, Haroon Rashid and Geo TV for bringing it to the fore.

While not many of our leaders are known for their belief in the rule of law and observance of rules, the late Mohammad Khan Junejo was one prime minister who would always ask “baba rule position kia hai?” At the end of office hours one day, I (then serving as his press secretary) was summoned by him through his ADC. As I knocked and entered the prime minister’s chamber, I saw his principal secretary and additional secretary standing near his desk. The discussion was about inducting an officer very close to him in the secretariat group. He was told it was in his competence to do so. Junejo responded that if it was, let the law and establishment divisions initiate the case on merit and state the “rule position... I will decide accordingly.” He then stood up and left. No such summary was ever received in the prime minister’s office and the officer was never inducted in the secretariat group.

Here is an opportunity for Prime Minister Gilani to show the nation that he believes in merit. He must move in support of the young officer who only coincidentally happens to be a Gilani. She is no relation of the prime minister. Mr Gilani must get the matter probed transparently under a senior judicial officer and take action under the law. If what Maryam says is true, the minister must be held accountable and the officer must be rewarded. This will do immense good to his government and add to his political stature. It will also send all the right signals to the bureaucracy in whose efficiency rests the performance of his administration.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: sanwermahmood@hotmail.com

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