–Planning Ministry’s media head Asim Khan resigns in protest against unceremonious ouster of Shahid Zia Cheema
ISLAMABAD: While the controversy over the ‘review’ of multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is yet to subside, the Ministry of Planning and Development appears to be in a crunch as head of its media wing Asim Khan has resigned from his post in protest of the bureaucratic wrongdoing and mishandling of the affairs on the whims of a few top officials dealing with the mega project.
This is the second successive jolt the ministry has suffered soon after the new government took charge as Shahid Zia Cheema, a grade-20 officer of the Planning Ministry, had been removed by the secretary on the day the PTI government took charge – August 20, 2018.
Background interactions with officials revealed that Asim Khan, who was also the official spokesman of the ministry, resigned only a few days later, on September 6, in protest against the manner in which Cheema was removed.
Sources in the ministry said that Asim Khan resigned due to “unnecessary interference of the administration who pressurised him to do some illegal work”.
A senior officer of the ministry said that the removal of Cheema shocked everyone as the media criticised the way the senior officer was removed unceremoniously. The removal letter of Cheema said that the action was taken on the basis of a ‘source report’ and on ‘disciplinary grounds’.
‘NO SOURCE REPORT’:
While Cheema moved court against his removal and produced this notification and a four-page letter he had sent to the secretary a few weeks back and the court is summoning the ministry officials on 17 September, the secretary moved in panic as there was no ‘source report’ with the ministry.
“The secretary moved in haste as the source report doesn’t exist but has been mentioned in the notification of Cheema’s removal. Hence, the secretary directed officials to gather evidence against Cheema on various grounds,” the source said.
Since Asim Khan was dealing with the media, the source said, the secretary and others in the administration started to exert extreme pressure on him, directing him to write a report in back dates clearly mentioning names of the officers who from time to time had been revealing official/classified information to the media so that a case could be made against Cheema, they added.
“They even asked Asim Khan to mention names of the reporters with whom they are in contact. On Aug 27, Asim Khan moved a summary to develop the ‘source report’, seeking from the ministry records of reporters who had visited the ministry during the past six months, any inquiry held against any officer for leaking classified information to media and action taken in this regard,” the source said. However, no record was furnished, the source said and added that Asim Khan resultantly refused to develop any fictional source report.
“The secretary took notice of Asim’s putting the matter on paper, terming it ‘backstabbing’. This left no room for Asim to keep working as project director of Media & Communications as the top bureaucrat was unhappy with him”.
Another officer in the ministry told Pakistan Today that three senior officials of the Planning Ministry were vocal against the alleged illegal appointment of a 71-year-old as chief economist of the Planning Commission.
“They had been critical of the extensions given to 71-year-old budget adviser, Asif Sheikh. They were also critical of the interference of the old man in the sections related to the annual PSDP,” the source said.
The source said that the officers were pushing the administration and top government officials to withdraw both appointments.
“When they were left unheard, the officials started approaching the media. They also went to court along with all proofs. Now the management wanted to write a report against them for revealing classified documents. Letters to the secretary and pleas in the court of law don’t qualify as classified documents,” the officer said.
The officer said that the actual requirement for the post of Chief Economist (CE) is 25 years of experience in economic policy, planning & management.
The officer said the CE is the only top position of G-22 available to the entire economist group in the Government of Pakistan.
“But the ministry appointed Dr Nadeem Javed who possessed experience less than 10 years. First, the federal cabinet under the former prime minister passed a resolution and cut this experience to only 15 years. Cabinet can’t pass any resolution but NEC can change rules in this regard,” the officer said.
The officer said Javed was given another five years’ relaxation on the basis of his PhD whereas he possessed experience of only teaching and did a job in some organisation under World Bank in his capacity of an office equivalent to G-17. That’s how his twenty-five years in service was covered. “He possesses PhD in financial management, not in economics,” the officer said.
“Similarly, the officer said, the qualification of 71 years old Asif Sheikh is that he is expert in helping out the rulers in maneuvering with the PSDP when they need extra money to spend in the areas/sectors of their own interests,” the source said.
As per rules set by the NEC, the source added, only chief public infrastructure programming can make budgetary allocations and decide releases for the projects under the supervision of joint chief economist operations.
“The 71 years old Asif Sheikh is acting as One-Man-Show in deciding all allocations. In principle, he is just a consultant and his role is of advisory nature. The consultant should have no interference except to advise the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission. But this man has under him a dedicated section of the government officials,” the officer said.
The officer said that the removal of most sincere and people of integrity, Cheema and Asim Khan, would badly hurt the operations of the Planning Ministry as the PTI government faces an uphill task of dealing with challenges on economic front.
Asim Khan did not respond to the questions repeatedly sent to his cell phone.
‘ACTION TAKEN OVER INDISCIPLINE’:
When contacted, Ayesha Khan, Programme Officer, Ministry of Planning, said that Shahid Zia Cheema, an officer of the Economists and Planners Group, was directed to report to the administration of the ministry and action was taken on the basis of reports received of indiscipline and sheer lack of understanding of administrative working.
“The order issued in this regard is self-explanatory. The officer concerned has been continuously violating discipline on different occasions taking things in his hand. The inquiry is already underway against him on sheer violation of the discipline,” she added.
Furthermore, Ms Khan said the officer in question has written a letter without having knowledge about rules, competence and used slanderous language bypassing all norms.
“Hence, his removal from the post has been done in the interest of governance and discipline which has to prevail at all cost. Official decorum has to be sustained and cannot be subservient to the whims of an official who lacks knowledge and is spoiling his efforts in interpersonal issues instead of concentrating on his work. Furthermore, it has been notified to all officers that discipline would be ensured at all cost as no organization can succeed without discipline,” she added.
Asked why the ministry is still retaining the most controversial budget adviser Asif Sheikh, Ms Khan said the services of Sheikh have been retained and are being utilised with the approval of the competent authority because his previous experience and expertise in the field of PSDP have been “quite useful in the public interest”.
Asked why Sheikh has full control over the PSDP, whereas the PSDP should be the subject of the PIP section, Ms Khan said it is incorrect that the advisor interferes in the affairs of PSDP.
“The factual position is that there has been a distribution of work between the budget advisor and PIP chief which was for the first time decided by the then secretary planning in November 2016 after due consultation with other responsible officers including Joint Chief Economist (Operations),” she said and added that the reiteration of this distribution of work became necessary because Shahid Zia Cheema has been raising the same issue time and again.
“Last order issued on 13 August has been called in question before Islamabad High Court by Cheema, which is being responded appropriately before the Court”.
Asked whether it was true that the former spokesman and the PD (Development Communication) Asim Khan had also resigned due to being forced to write Source Report in backdates, Ms Khan said it is not true and denied.
“He tendered his resignation on 3rd September 2018, which was accepted,” she concluded.