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By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: A day after Pakistan witnessed one of the greatest day in its history towards checking corruption, we have one good piece of news and one bad.
The good news is that President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday administered oath to one of the most respected retired judges Justice (R) Rana Baghwandas as Chairman Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). The bad news is that the elevation of Babar Awan as Law Minister comes at a time when he is alleged to have taken Rs35 million as bribe from the owners of Haris Steel, and on the very day when the full court handed down its landmark verdict to curb the menace of corruption.
There is no explanation available as to what really made Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to pick this great Wednesday to shower his bounties on a man who is included in the list of those ministers, advisers, ambassadors and top bureaucrats, whose resignation is sought.
Babar Awan is undoubtedly a talented minister and has not been involved in any financial scam or corruption ever since he joined the federal cabinet. However, the Haris Steel owner Shaikh Afzal’s statement given before the Supreme Court is also too serious to be taken so lightly or ignored to the extent that the premier waited for December 16, 2009 to promote Awan in the cabinet from an average Parliamentary Affairs Ministry to the important Law Ministry.
It is believed that it would have been better for the prime minister to change Awan’s portfolio only once he had been cleared from these allegations that are now part of the Supreme Court record. Awan was considered to be among a group of lawyers who were considered the Dogar court’s favourites, he has never faced the kind of charges levelled against him and a few others by Shaikh Afzal, who is an accused himself.
Awan’s spokesman has already termed it a conspiracy against the minister by the ‘Qadiani lobby’. NAB has, however, already summoned Babar Awan and all others charged by Shaikh Afzal of taking bribes in the BoP Rs9 billion Haris Steel loan case to win over Dogar court in favour of the accused. His promotion as Law Minister came within a few days of NAB action against him and others. Interestingly, NAB has now been brought under the control of Babar Awan following his elevation as Law Minister.
After his induction in Gilani’s cabinet, Awan first hit a controversy when The News published a story about his fake doctorate (Ph.D) degree that was wrongfully awarded by a United States University, which was never accredited for such degree programme and closed down in the year 2000 for being a fraud.
Both the United States Educational Foundation (USEF) as well as Higher Education Commissioner of Pakistan had confirmed that the said University was never allowed to offer degree programmes including the Ph.D. “It was a fraud,” the USEF Pakistan had said.
The minister, who admitted to have done his Ph.D in the University of Monticello USA in 1997-98 through its distant learning programme, however, had insisted that his Ph.D was valid. Prior to Awan, the prime minister appointed Sardar Latif Khosa, former attorney general, adviser after he was removed as top law officer following allegations that he got Rs3 million from a client to get from Dogar court a decision in her favour. Khosa too denied these allegations but is presently facing the court in the same case.
On Thursday respected Justice (R) Rana Baghwandas took over as Chairman Federal Public Service Commission. The president’s decision to appoint Baghwandas as head of the FPSC is widely appreciated particularly in a situation where the government is generally found lacking on governance issues.
Bhagwandas, however, is joining his new assignment within a few months after the government had already slashed the authority of Chairman FPSC to head top promotion boards for the civilian bureaucracy. The bureaucracy now expects that the government would not only restore these powers to ensure promotions on merit but also seeks the role of the FPSC chairman in the top bureaucratic appointments to depoliticise the bureaucracy by securing the senior members of the bureaucracy from being removed on the whims of political masters.
Like the head of the promotion boards, it is suggested that the chairman FPSC should also lead a committee, comprising some key federal secretaries and a few ministers, to recommend to the prime minister every top appointment- in BS-21 and BS-22- in the civil bureaucracy. It is believed that such a mechanism would allow the bureaucracy to operate independently besides preventing from being removed for refusing to follow unlawful orders of their superior/political masters.