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President Alvi’s Charge Sheet

August 22, 2023 at 6:49 pm | Economic Affairs

By Qamar Bashir

In a surprising turn of events, Mr. Waqar Ahmad, the Principal Secretary to the President of Pakistan, has refuted allegations of deceiving the president, disregarding his directives, eroding his authority, and falsely suggesting that unsigned and unapproved bills were returned to the Prime Minister’s office.

He has counter-alleged that the President, instead of returning the bills after giving his observation, retained the Army Amendment Act 2023 and Official Secret Act 2023 files in his office and did not return them even on August 21 much after the due dates. This contemplation led to potential delays, which the Secretary attributes to the President’s inaction rather than his own inefficiency.

The Receipt and Dispatch Section of the Presidency plays a pivotal role in recording the time and date of receipt, which serves as a reference point for determining deadlines, especially when there are time-bound requirements dictated by the constitution or laws.

Consequently, Mr. Waqar Ahmad has called for an impartial investigation to establish the truth, assign culpability based on the inefficiencies of each staff member involved in handling the file movement, and rescind his surrender letter to the Establishment Division.

Before, proceeding to analyze the Secretary’s letter in depth, let us understand different scenarios which emerged once any legislative business lands in the President’s office for approval.

Given that both the impugned bills were passed by both houses of parliament, the President had a window of only 10 days, as stipulated by article 75, to make a decision.

The initial step, where advice from the Prime Minister on legislative matters is received, is vital. The Receipt and Dispatch Section of the Presidency plays a pivotal role in recording the time and date of receipt, which serves as a reference point for determining deadlines, especially when there are time-bound requirements dictated by the constitution or laws.

First Treatment: In cases where a bill is passed with the President’s knowledge and the sitting government is in alignment with the President’s position, the approval process tends to be smooth. Such bills are swiftly approved by the President and returned to the Prime Minister’s office for enactment. Given the collaborative nature of the two offices in such cases, any potential mistakes are typically resolved amicably without escalating into issues.

Second Treatment; President Arif Alvi’s approach of addressing glaring mistakes or inconsistencies in a bill was both pragmatic and wise. By sending the bill back unofficially and involving the law minister to make necessary rectifications, potential issues were resolved in a collaborative manner. The mutual understanding between the President and the law minister ensures that any lapses are addressed without formal contention.

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, these files were not returned to the Principal Secretary’s office as part of the normal process.

Third Treatment: When the President perceives a bill as flawed and not in line with the national interest, particularly when there’s a lack of alignment with the sitting government, a more deliberate and rigorous approach is taken. The President’s detailed written observations and comments serve as a strong assertion of his concerns. This treatment involves both the Presidency and the Prime Minister’s office closely monitoring procedural aspects. Even minor discrepancies are magnified, especially if they can be exploited to highlight perceived shortcomings in the bill. This approach underscores the strategic nature of handling bills that are considered against the national interest.

Fourth Treatment: When a bill’s immediate assent is deemed untimely due to ongoing political or legal developments, and there’s no alignment with the sitting government, the bill is deliberately delayed. It’s referred back to the Prime Minister’s office, either approved or unapproved, after making the most of every available moment within the President’s control.

Fifth Treatment: If the President decides that a bill should be rejected without providing detailed observations, it’s sent back unapproved, even without accompanying comments. This effectively prevents the bill from becoming law.

Given that both the impugned bills were passed by both houses of parliament, the President had a window of only 10 days, as stipulated by article 75, to make a decision.

This highlights the significance of the President’s personal secretariat in managing these crucial administrative tasks.

Leaked information from Mr. Waqar’s letter suggests that the bills were received by his office after business hours. One bill arrived on August 2, 2023, and the other on August 8, 2023. Although the bills were presented to the President on the following day of their respective arrivals, they weren’t returned from the President’s office even by August 21, 2023.

This departure from the timeline is significant, as the bills were required to be sent back on August 11 and August 17, respectively, under the given circumstances. This prompted the secretary to charge the President of delaying the actions on the impugned bill not only through official channels but also through the media.

This act deviates from the norm, as any government servant is obligated by law to adhere to official correspondence regulations, as outlined in the Rules of Business 1973 and the Secretariat instructions 2004, which stem from Rule 5(15) of the Rules of Business, 1973.

These rules do not permit a government officer to share official correspondence with the media. Rule 8 of the Rules of Business stipulates that no government servant can communicate official documents or information to an unauthorized government servant, non-official individual, or the press, unless authorized by special or general government orders.

Given my close connection with Mr. Waqar since our shared training program in 1991 at the Civil Services Academy in Walton, Lahore, it’s puzzling to see such a lapse in his actions. Considering his intimate familiarity with the rules of business and secretariat instructions, it does seem unlikely that he would personally disclose his letter.

It’s conceivable that certain officials or staff members, who might have established connections with the media, could have been involved in the leak without his awareness or consent. In complex situations like this, it’s essential to thoroughly investigate and consider all possibilities before drawing conclusions.

Mr. Waqar’s inquiry about the whereabouts of the files raises a fundamental question about the delineation of the president’s office. The response to this query hinges on discerning the roles and titles of the president’s supporting staff. The President House encompasses two distinct secretariats: the President’s Secretariat Public, overseen by the Principal Secretary (such as Mr. Waqar Ahmad in this scenario), and the President’s Secretariat Personal, headed by a Brigadier.

The latter secretariat is assisted by the President’s staff offices, including the ADCs, and additional support staff sourced from the country’s three armed services. This division in responsibilities helps clarify where the files in question would be located.

In accordance with established procedures, the Principal Secretary would collate input from relevant section heads and dispatch the files to the office of the Brigadier within the President’s Secretariat Personal. The Brigadier would then personally present the files to the President, and following the President’s actions or lack thereof, they would be returned to the Principal Secretary’s office for further necessary steps.

Mr. Waqar’s assertion that the files remained with the President himself and were never sent back to him indicates that they were in possession of the President’s personal staff. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, these files were not returned to the Principal Secretary’s office as part of the normal process. This highlights the significance of the President’s personal secretariat in managing these crucial administrative tasks.

The President’s adeptness with technology is well-known; he frequently composes vital correspondence and articles using his computer and maintains a direct line of communication with his immediate team through platforms like WhatsApp. In this context, communication between the President and his staff appears robust and efficient.

However, a point of concern for me arises from Mr. Waqar’s  role as a secretary especially when pivotal national matters become stalled at the President’s end, and there’s a risk of compromising matters of national importance, it becomes his responsibility to ensure that the President takes action within the prescribed time frame.

His duty extends to persistently reminding the President until the task is accomplished both verbally and in writing through physical moments of files and through electronic filing system where the secretary has a direct excess to the President without having to go through the Military Secretary.

I’ve observed Mr. Waqar fulfilled this duty multiple times during my tenure in the Presidency. While I believe he had adhered to this responsibility in this case as well, an accurate assessment can only be revealed through a comprehensive forensic audit.

The writer is former Press Secretary to the President of Pakistan, former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, and former MD, SRBC.

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