The special secretary in absentia


Being true to his portfolio, Health Department Special Secretary Babar Hayat Tarrar has been enjoying a “special” status of being on a training course without relinquishing the charge of such a crucial post in a department faced with so many challenges, Pakistan Today has learnt.

Tarrar is a grade 19 DMG officer who is currently doing a staff college course for promotion to the next grade. Officials of the Health Department revealed that the special secretary is not available for visitors during the office hours besides there is no time for him to come to work.

“Previously he used to sit on Saturdays but even that is no more the case since the announcement of two holidays in the province,” an official on the condition of anonymity said.

Health Department shares this strange distinction with just a few other departments for receiving hundreds of applicants and visitors everyday because it involves management of one of the largest human resource in the province. Doctors, nurses, paramedics are only a fraction of visitors coming to the department for one task or the other.

A senior official on the condition of anonymity, however, revealed that the slots of special secretaries were created in a few departments to cope with the overwhelming burden of work. Higher Education, Health and local government departments were given a special secretary to share the workload with the secretary.

“The special secretary is almost as important as the secretary and, in the Health Department he is the one who shares almost all responsibilities along with the secretary and his absence has caused a lot of trouble,” the official added.

The recent outbreak of measles and the upcoming season of dengue are two great challenges that the Health Department and the government faces.

Absence of officer on such a key slot puts things into jeopardy.

Besides disturbance in the routine office work, the trouble has passed on to visitors as well, who coming from as far as Rajanpur, have to return disappointed or made to wait for several days. Scores of visitors, however, thought it was only the tip of the iceberg as only a month had passed from the three-month training programme.

“I’ve come here for the extension of my current charge of associate professor and the staff tells me that the special secretary does not sit and refers me to other sections which again send me back here. It has become so hectic and wastage of time,” a doctor visiting from south Punjab at the Health Department told Pakistan Today. Another lady doctor waiting for ex-Pakistan leave shared similar views.

Interestingly, Tarrar has recently survived the major bureaucratic reshuffle in Punjab despite being on Staff College training while many other officers relinquished their charge.

Sources reveal that he is a close relative of PML-N leader Afzal Tarrar—the reason he was not transferred besides being allowed to continue staff college holding such an important office.

Talking to Pakistan Today, Health Special Secretary Babar Hayat Tarrar said there was no prohibition in rules on holding the office and taking staff college at the same time.

“This has been the tradition in the civil service and I’m not the only exception,” Tarrar said. He, however, admitted that he was not taking visitors, but explained that public dealing was not “important” in the department because all work was happening as per routine.

“I personally follow up on all files after training time and work till late hours. I’m also holding meetings of important committees and will participate in the donor’s and dengue conference in the near future as well,” he added.

Caretaker Health Minister Saleema Hashmi said the problems in the health department needed to be fought on war footing.

“One bureaucrat is not important for us, we need more doctors, more medicines and more facilities; one person does not make any difference, as the entire team is dedicated in coping with these challenges,” she added.


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