PHC declares appointments of key PBS members illegal

ISLAMABAD: 

The federal government’s governance has come to haunt it just months before the end of its term, as the Peshawar High Court has declared appointments of key functional members of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) illegal.

The provincial court has set aside the orders of appointments of Member Census & Survey, Member Human Resource Management (HRM) and Member Economic Statistics due to violation of provincial quotas and absence of PBS rules.

Member Economic Statistics was also holding the charge of chief statistician. The HRM member has already completed his four-year term. With the decision, four out of five positions of the functional members of the PBS have become vacant. Two positions of chief statistician and national accounts member were already vacant.

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If the PHC’s decision is implemented in letter and spirit, the remaining one member position, Member Support Services, may also have to be declared vacant, according to an official of the Statistics Division.

This will make the PBS dysfunctional at a time when the organisation is in the process of short-listing a consultant firm to conduct 5% population survey to end controversy surrounding the results of the last population census.

The vacant posts of chief statistician and national accounts member could also create hurdles in the budget making exercise, as the PBS computes the provisional results of national accounts.

“The procedure has not been adopted by the respondents while appointing census & survey member, HRM member, economic statistics member and as such requires fresh proceedings right from the time of the advertisement of the posts,” according to the two-judge bench decision of the PHC.

It further directed that the appointment orders of all these three members have been set aside and fresh advertisement in accordance with the rules be made after calculating the provincial quota in accordance with the law of the land and finance ministry circular of August 2015.

However, the government has not yet de-notified the members and is waiting for the official copy of the judgment, according to a Statistics Division official.

The PHC has bound the federal government to make fresh appointments within one month.

But the problem will be absence of the PBS rules, as former finance minister Ishaq Dar and former chief statistician Asif Bajwa ran the PBS without observing rules and regulations. They had filled the PBS Governing Council and functional members with people from Punjab. The government appointed some members of PBS Governing Council from small provinces only after the parliamentarians made a hue and cry just before holding of the sixth population census.

The government has been accused of manipulating the PBS for portraying good health of the economy. In his book, Growth and Inequality, Dr Hafiz Pasha writes that “the PBS appears to have overstated the growth rate of eight sectors in fiscal year 2016-17. Therefore, our conclusion is that the GDP growth rate in 2016-17 is not 5.3% but closer to 4.4%.”

The PBS had been set up in 2011 as the prime national agency for collecting and disseminating data on socio-economic indicators. Its main task is also holding the population census and house listing. The chief statistician runs the PBS and five functional members assist him.

But due to oligarchic governance style, the organisation’s work has remained affected. It also could not hold agriculture census for the last six years. The organisations’ affairs remain in disarray as the Bureau was working without any service rules after seven years of its inception, which finally created legal challenges for the government.

The Office of the Auditor-General of Pakistan had also framed audit objections over “irregular and unauthorised appointments of functional members”, who were hired without framing the rules.

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The PHC judgment noted that the August 2015 finance ministry circular clearly mentioned that “all recruitment matters including advertisements may be routed through Secretary and Provincial/Regional quota should invariable be implemented in recruitment”.

“The record suggests that nothing was routed through statistics secretary nor they have observed the provincial and regional quota in the recruitments,” according to the judgment. Fazle-e-Rabi, a former provincial census commissioner Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, had challenged the appointments after his name was not considered despite strong professional background.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2018.