Punjab Police Saga: How Official Misconduct Is Turning Into A Norm

The orchestrated spat in the rank and file of the Punjab Police is not only a disgrace to unity of command but disrespectful to the norms of the civil service.

Since long there is a structured socio-political move to discredit civil service institutions and public servants. This has led to formation of public opinion that civil servants are incompetent and corrupt; and among them, Police officers are considered as the top culprits. Being a former civil servant, this has always disturbed me as I have seen among peers, senior and juniors dedicated, qualified, competent and honest colleagues. Yes, there are perhaps a 10% (of course it’s a large guesstimate) who chose to be on a tangent but then such people are not exclusive to civil service. The civil service is flanked for the service delivery deficit, which is more for the reasons of systems, human and financial resources, than competence.

Among the civil services, the Police has most public interface and rarely does one hear someone giving them credit. This happens despite the fact that a police official, as part of security apparatus, puts his/her life at risk in line on duty. They aren’t financially compensated and/or socially recognised and most of the time are just ‘killed’ than being a ‘shaheed’. They also face extraordinary political heat and pressure. Hence protection of tenure and neutrality always hangs in balance.

The incumbent government rode on the election mantra of transparency, accountability and justice for all. Promising a civil service that does not bow to political pressures. Yet, the way mockery has been made out of civil service and civil servants has set new standards. Now civil servants are responsible for non-performance and weak delivery of the government as they are alleged to be loyalists of the previous governments and political parties. Again, there may be a handful of hard-core loyalists but, generally, civil servants try to serve with neutrality.

Tenure protection has always been a thorny issue for measurable performance. We thought it was solved when the Supreme Court ordered that the tenure of senior civil servants should be 3 years. However, as per a calculation to date, the government during the past two years has posted 5 FBR chairpersons, 5 BOI chairpersons, 4 Federal Commerce Secretaries, 3 Federal Finance Secretaries, 3 chairs of SECP, 4 chief secretaries in the Punjab, 5 IGs in and 6 Education Secretaries in Punjab. The list goes on and there are many other examples but these numbers are enough to see how the current government is treating civil servants on such important positions.

The first case of flawed governance is the way the Punjab province is being run by the federal government. The Cabinet meetings are frequently chaired by the Prime Minister and only for Punjab, never for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. What does it signify for officers deputed in the provinces? Whom are they accountable to? The provincial or federal bosses? If the grapevine is to be believed, a federal advisor prevailed on the CM Punjab to not only get a ‘tainted officer’ posted but be pitched against an IG. An IG who is reputed to be principled and professional; and who, as per his peers and subordinates, preferred to hold to the grace and dignity of his office as commander.

The PM, last month, had another video session with the civil servants posted in Punjab. He assured them of tenure protection and having their back on all types of political pressures. But as always, he took another ‘U-turn’ not only on his statement but his judgement. He chose to put his weight behind an officer whose supersession was signed by him in agreement with Central Selection Board’s (CSB) recommendation that “officers with tainted reputations not only managed to maneuver official processes to get important positions but remain unscathed by subjective evaluation system”.

Interestingly the outgoing and out of favor IG is also the same who was applauded by the PM himself in a public event for his hard work. Let’s not forget that similar treatment was meted out to IG Islamabad when he chose to push back political pressure by Federal Minister Azam Swati.

The TV screens were flashing red yesterday on the issue of Punjab IG. In the evening the incumbent CCPO – Umer Sheikh - chose to be live on some TV channels as well. It’s been just 5 days that the CCPO had assumed charge and was reported by his IG of misconduct.

The Government Servant (conduct) Rule, 1964 – Rule 22 – prohibits a government servant to make any statement of fact or opinion, which is capable of embarrassing the government in any document published or in any communication made to press or in a public utterance or TV programme or in any radio broadcast delivered by him. This was reiterated in an Establishment Division’s letter dated 23 July 2020, to all officers. The Government Servant (Conduct) Rule, 1964 – Rules 20,21,22,25-A & 25-B, bar a government servant from participation on any media platform except with the express permission of the government. It also bars them from expressing views against a policy as well that may amount to defamation, among other things.

I have my serious doubts if the CCPO had taken written permission of the government, which at his grade would be at least the IGP or the Establishment Division. Any violation of the conduct rules tantamount to misconduct and is liable to be proceeded against the Government Servant (Efficiency & Discipline) Rules, 1973. This also corresponds to the noted minutes of the CSB that stated, approved by PM as well, that “the officer had limited understanding of rules and procedures of the inter-departmental linkages and the officer has a tendency to lapse into non seriousness.”

After listening to CCPO Umer Sheikh’s interview clips, it was clear that his reputation of being brash was not far from the truth. Let me give examples of how it can not only be covered under the rules and why the CSB’s observation holds. The officer:

  • Opined a political statement on administrative functioning of Erstwhile CM Punjab (Shehbaz Sharif)

  • Described the 2014 Model Town incident as 'a '14 persons' murder by the Police'.

  • Opined session of PSP association, called by its president an Additional IG, to be unauthorised as it cannot call all field commanders to the meeting. Interestingly, it is a voluntary body of service persons.

  • Stated that FIR on sensitive issues will only be registered with his consent.

  • Interpreted rules to state that the CCPO Lahore’s office is independent unit of command and not per-se under the orders of IG.

Interestingly, the story does not end there. On Tuesday night, basking in his televisual glory, he publicised his own model of policing, i.e., “the Umer Sheikh model”. This means, for one, as per him policing the police, on the spot rather than being entangled in procedures because the force is financially corrupt. Second, while communicating to Mr. Ansar Abbasi regarding the IB report about him, he termed it as a response to his “go-getter style of working”. Third, he illustrated his Umer Sheikh model aka “my way is the only way” when he stated that he went invited into PSP association meeting. He was asked to leave but being “Umer Sheikh” he grabbed the podium, spoke and then left. Imagine the impact of such conduct on the juniors when a senior commander of a disciplined force disregards discipline and decorum through such conduct and brags the same on national TV. Let’s not forget the CSB comments here. It seems that the PM is now trusting him after signing off on the promotion board’s comments.

In one of his appearances, he was quipped to weave a story around his Umer Sheikh model of working by calling it a zero tolerance against crime, which the IG may not have liked. Imagine an officer of CCPO level, who has assumed charge for only 5 days, has an administrative tiff with the IG but still busts a murder case; which to him was through connivance with his SHO and police subordinates. We don’t know if the case has been submitted to the court, but the media narration gave a contrary impression. A case is either in the court or is to be submitted before a court, yet the police commander is adjudicating it and quoting it as an example of his policing model on national TV. The Efficiency & Discipline rules, as stated, above expressly prohibit such statements.

Mr. Ansar Abbasi’s story on this topic is comprehensive and informs this report as well. Abbasi writes that CCPO Umer Sheikhs’s ACR reports, 2014- 2015, were downgraded for want of satisfactory delivery of services and in shouldering challenging assignments. The CSB, further observed that the officer has “tainted reputation”, manages to “maneuver official processes to get to important position” and has remained ‘unscathed’ by the subjective evaluation system. It’s important to reiterate here that not only the PM endorsed all CSB’s observations but approved the supersession of the officer having tainted career.

Throughout his moments of fame not even once he uttered the word “CM” and it was all about how he is to follow “PM’s vision” and actually he asked the PM to ask Chairperson FPSC why he was superseded as he is the best. Interestingly both him and the PM forgot that CSB is highest civil service committee that besides the Chair comprises of four IGs, chief secretaries and key federal secretaries. It’s a collective body rather than an individual that recommends promotion to the senior most grade. But Mr Sheikh chose to cat call Chair FPSC and the PM reportedly informed his cabinet that there were complaints against the IG (for whom he was all praises a month ago).

It’s a classic case of misplaced priorities and disregard to institutional governance. It will add to the existing feeling of dejection among the civil service who thought a change or “tabdeeli” may at last had arrived in Pakistan. I would like to finish by a quote from a senior PSP colleague on the topic:
“On the other side is a DIG who is brash and self-anointed swashbuckling crusader against crime. He is fond of publicity and self-projection. He is hurt too; for he thinks he deserved promotion that was denied to him. He is bitter about it and expressed his resentment openly in a breach of norms of a disciplined force. He thinks he enjoys the confidence of the political bosses and would like to make a difference. His immediate boss, the IG, may reconcile to the ground reality and go along with the decision made against his wishes. It is not a question of who blinks first. It is a question of who will go down in history as having shown character in an hour of trial. Let the Punjab Police come out winner in the end to defeat the agenda of those who want to sow dissension within its ranks.”
Contributing Editor