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EDITORIAL: Punjab Chief Minister’s Special Assistant on Information Dr Firdaus Ashiq Awan is known for her self-confidence, an admirable quality in a woman politician but not when it gives way to haughtiness she displayed during a visit to a Ramazan Bazaar in her hometown Sialkot accompanied by a woman Assistant Commissioner (AC). Seeing the substandard food items on sale, she flew into a rage and shouted at the officer in front of a large crowd in full glare of TV cameras, saying it was her duty to check everything being sold in the bazaar and that she is paid for doing her job. The AC tried to offer an explanation but Awan had no patience for it, leaving the former no choice but to walk away. Good sense suggests that the CM’s adviser should have vented her anger in private and also conveyed the same to relevant authorities.

Predictably, the provincial Chief Secretary came out to defend a fellow officer, castigating Awan for her “uncivilized behaviour”. The Civil Service Alumni Association also issued a statement criticising what it called the adviser’s “atrocious and disgraceful” outburst. But true to her style Awan stuck to her guns, saying it was the AC’s duty to manage the Ramazan Bazaar, and that the people ultimately cursed the political government and its representatives when they did not find quality products and proper facilities in these bazaars. It is worth noting that although as per government order retail outlets display officially prescribed rates, there is no check to ensure compliance. Everything from fruits, vegetables to various grocery items, including the scarce commodity sugar, are sold at arbitrarily hiked exorbitant rates. Government representatives surely are answerable to the people for quality of services; that though is not a licence for them to publicly humiliate an officer, or for that matter any private individual. The unpleasant episode has drawn comments for and against both sides. Unsurprisingly, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz berated Awan demanding she apologise to the AC, only to be reminded by the latter that when her father Nawaz Sharif was CM of Punjab he had gotten bureaucrats handcuffed in Faisalabad. Two wrong, of course, do not make a right. For now, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has intervened, telling bureaucrats to cool down and let him handle the matter.

All Pakistan Provincial Civil Services Association has used the opportunity to take a swipe at its rival service, saying the Chief Secretary had acted more like an aide to the federal service officers occupying provincial posts, not as a provincial government representative, adding “the federal government officers have always blackmailed provincial governments.” In a more interesting reaction, the Qaumi Awami Tehreek President, Ayaz Latif Palejo, while defending Awan said bureaucracy had also committed excesses against the public over the past 75 years. Bureaucracy may bear part of the blame for so much that is wrong with this state and society, but the political elites are not without blame, either. Public representatives in assemblies take it for granted that police and administrative officers in their constituencies protect and promote their personal interests. In a recent instance, a PTI MPA from Jatoi tehsil in southern Punjab, Khurram Sohail Leghari, asked AC Arshad Virk over phone that he wanted to visit the local Ramazan Bazaar. According to the latter, the call dropped due to loss of battery charge. He called back later and after a heated conversation a very angry Leghari invited him to a fight if that was what he wanted. Since the MPA is an active member of a group of PTI legislators backing the party’s estranged leader Jahangir Tareen, it is quite possible the AC was under instructions not to entertain any request from him. Be that as it may, things will not get any better unless both civil servants and public representatives reform their attitudes, and learn to serve the people rather than their respective interests.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021