Public sector appointments must be made on merit: SC

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional imperative of equality and non-discrimination demands that public sector appointments be made in an open and competitive process with equal opportunity for all.

A two-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, observed this on the petitions of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) regarding honorary appointments to public offices like the Chairperson and Members of the Council of Complaints (COC), which are appointed for two years.

According to the case, a number of television broadcasting companies and a private citizen filed separate constitutional petitions in the Sindh High Court (SHC) for issuance of the writ of quo warranto against the individuals then holding the offices of the Chairperson and Members of the COC Sindh, PEMRA on the ground that they were not fit, eligible and qualified to hold said offices.

The High Court dismissed the constitutional petitions and observed that the appointments in question did not seem to suffer from any inherent defect under the law. However, the High Court directed that “in the future, the appointment of Chairperson and Members of the COC PEMRA is required to be made after advertising the positions”. The PEMRA approached the apex court against this direction.

The judgment said that for the regulation of electronic media in the country, the COC evidently holds an important adjudicatory-cum-recommendatory position vis-à-vis review of public complaints. In case of violation of the codes of programme content and advertisements, the COC may recommend appropriate action of censure or fine to PEMRA.

The appointees to the COC are to play an important role in public life relating to the issue of public complaints in the realm of regulation of electronic media in the country. Obviously, the process of making such public appointments should be designed and conducted in a way to ensure that the best people, from the widest possible pool of candidates, are considered and appointed to these positions.

The judgment said making appointment to a public office is a sacred trust which is to be discharged justly and fairly in the best interest of the public, based on a process that is fair, transparent and non-discriminatory. Highest standards of diligence, transparency and probity are to be observed so that a qualified, eligible and most deserving person is selected for a post.

The court noted that “citizens of eminence” may not themselves come forward to apply for these honorary positions; therefore, the government itself needs to spot such individuals through a process of headhunt.

“Alongside the process initiated with the advertisement of the places available on the COC, the government may carry out its own search of finding the best possible candidates for the job. Any suitable candidates identified in this executive search may be approached with the prospective offer of serving on the COC. Consent of such candidates to such offer may be treated as their application for the available positions. Such candidatures shall be added to the group of applications received in response to the public advertisement. All candidates, whether identified in Government search or those who themselves choose to apply in response to advertisement, shall be assessed against an objective criteria which may relate to conduct, reputation, credibility, integrity, professional excellence, etc. The most eligible candidates shall be selected out of the consolidated pool,” concluded the judgment.—TERENCE J SIGAMONY