ISLAMABAD: Despite multiple crises and headaches that plague Pakistan’s international relations, for some senior officials of the foreign ministry it has been time to hire favourites and acquaintances for hundreds of low-ranking jobs.
A resulting crisis has caused embarrassment to the beleaguered PPP-led administration which is already struggling with allegations of corruption and nepotism.
The foreign ministry recently concluded an extensive recruitment drive in two phases, for about 300 jobs. But instead of ending the acute manpower shortage in the country’s diplomatic service headquarters, the drive has led to an array of charges against the ministry’s head honcho and some of his colleagues.
At the heart is Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who allegedly forced ministry officials to accommodate people recommended by him. In fact, officials admit that 20 per cent of the jobs went to people recommended by the foreign minister and junior Minister Malik Amad Khan. Well aware that defying the minister’s recommendation could hamper their own career growth, the officials not only followed the orders but also used the opportunity to accommodate their own favourites.
The first wrongdoing came early on — in 2008 when the process for hiring was initiated. But it was cancelled on the orders of the foreign minister who wanted a share for his favourites. The hiring process was then scheduled for the following year but was cancelled again at the minister’s orders before it finally got under way at the beginning of the current year. In the meantime, the Foreign Office worked with a shortage of 300 employees for around two years.
When the recruitment finally started, in the words of an old timer at the Foreign Office the exercise of nepotism and favouritism was “unprecedented”. The matter is being openly discussed at the FO.
And it is said that the foreign minister is not happy with his share.
His aides point out that the minister lost the support of an influential family in his constituency because their son could not be obliged; the family deserted him and joined the Javed Hashmi camp of PML-N.
Equally angry is the minister’s peon whose second son did not get a job, although his first son had been given one earlier. The disgruntled peon had no qualms about yelling at a high-ranking officer in the presence of others.
However, details of wrongdoings in the hiring process are also worth noting. For the 46 jobs for peons (naib qasids), the official record reveals that 17 of them were filled with candidates suggested by the minister, the minister of state and officials of the ministry; 19 with children of employees of he foreign ministry and 10 appointments were made on merit.
Merit was also ignored in the hiring of over 40 lower division clerks. As per government rules, one of the conditions for appointing an LDC is 30 words per minute (wpm) typing speed. But results shared with Dawn reveal that 10 candidates with a slower typing speed made it through; at least a couple of them had a speed of only one or two wpm. And a couple of successful candidates had not even bothered to turn up for the mandatory test and interview.
Equally blatant were violations of rules in hiring for 25 vacancies of assistants. Sources in the FO point out that in this category there weren’t any seats reserved for residents of Punjab and wrong selections were made for the seats that were to be filled on merit.
The record shows that at least seven people with scores lower than those of unsuccessful candidates were selected.
It is learnt that the director general (personnel), who happens to be the appointing authority for some of the positions, was bypassed. Instead, the recommendations for the appointment of the selected candidates were made by the departmental selection committee (DSC) and sent directly to the additional secretary (administration) who got them endorsed by the foreign secretary.
Additional Secretary Ishtiaq Andrabi, who heads the division responsible for staffing, confirmed that the DSC had bypassed the director general because he was unwilling to approve the appointments.
Estacode, the rules governing government jobs, clearly states that the appointing authority (in this case the director general) has to record the reasons for not agreeing with DSC’s recommendations before sending the case to the higher authority.
Even more blatant wrongdoings were reported in the second phase of selection for the posts of office clerks and other such staff. For these positions, the candidates were to appear for two tests and an interview. However, while preparing the final list, the results of the second test were discarded.
That the second test is an integral part of the hiring process is evident from the call letters issued to the candidates. But Mr Andrabi denies this: “There was no provision for the second test.” Moreover, he criticised the ex-director general (personnel), who oversaw the recruitment and was then sidelined for pointing out the irregularities.
However, the official’s attack on his colleague is considered here to be part of the blowback of the faulty process. In fact, the friction in the department over the issue grew so serious that the FO ordered an internal inquiry. The report authored by Special Secretary Haroon Shaukat gave a clean chit to the hirings, ignoring the obvious irregularities and violation of the rule of merit.
Mr Shaukat said the DSC conformed to the rules and conducted the recruitment in an impartial, transparent and credible manner.