Back-up plans at Presidency as elections loom
As the year came to an end, two key officials at the President’s Secretariat who had managed official and personal affairs of President Asif Ali Zardari opted for new postings in the federal government.
Their transfers set tongues wagging because Mr Zardari’s presidential term lapses on September 9, 2013, and the exits of the officials are too early.
On December 8, Salman Farooqi was given the additional charge of the federal ombudsman on acting basis. Mr Farooqi is known for his decades-old association with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and looks after the president’s day-to-day affairs.
For now he will also hold on to the position of general secretary to the president till his replacement is found. There are hints that by the time the government moves toward the caretaker set-up, his position as the ombudsman will be made permanent.
Similarly, Malik Asif Hayat, secretary and the principal accounting officer of the Presidency, will head the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) as its full-time chairman. The position was vacated by Justice (retired) Rana Baghwandas on December 14, and the government formally notified his appointment as the new FPSC head this week.
Unlike Mr Farooqi, Mr Hayat will be working on a full-time basis and has vacated his office at the Presidency. Secretary Establishment Taimoor Azmat Usman will in all likelihood be appointed as the new secretary to the president.
A plausible explanation being offered by PPP insiders is that with only a few months left for the PPP government in the centre, President Zardari wants to fill these positions with his trusted buddies.
The summaries of all these appointments are moved by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and once the caretaker prime minister comes in, it will not be possible for President Zardari to influence decisions and appointments.
At the moment, with his hand-picked Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in the office, President Zardari is spoilt for choice.
Furthermore, a senior federal government official and a PPP leader added that once the caretaker government comes in, the Presidency would turn into a ceremonial office.
Therefore, both Mr Farooqi and Mr Hayat, who were already on post-retirement assignments with the Presidency, carefully planned their exits.
“For the last four years, it was no secret that it was the Presidency and not the Prime Minister’s Secretariat that was running the country,” said the official. “There is no fun in sitting at a place which has no power.
“Secondly, the constitutional protection at the new posts is a major reason that Mr Farooqi and Mr Hayat opted for these assignments,” he chipped in.
The last is a valid reason for the shifts as well. Both these positions are constitutional in nature and immune from political influence – neither the caretaker nor the next prime minister will be able to remove them.
The only way of changing an incumbent FPSC chairman or federal ombudsman is by filing a reference with the president, supported by strong evidence that the occupant was either involved in some irregularity or physically not able to deliver his/her official duties.
In fact in 2006 when General Pervez Musharraf wanted to remove then chairman of the FPSC Lt-Gen (retired) Jamshed Gulzar Kiani after they developed differences, he had to bring in a constitutional amendment to cut down the chairman’s tenure from five years to three years.
Currently, the appointment of the FPSC chairman is for three years whereas the federal ombudsman has a secured tenure of four years.
These developments strongly indicate that the PPP is unsure about its return, and for all one knows may be even President Zardari will leave the Presidency once his term is up.
At the moment, no one is willing to give definitive answers, but then again there is no harm in making back-up plans.