ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has constituted an 11-member ministerial committee to take crucial decisions about the economic policy on behalf of the federal cabinet.
Headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the committee comprises ministers for planning and development, commerce, industries and production, national food security and textile industry and parliamentary secretaries of these ministries.
Surprisingly, the important ministries of water and power and petroleum and natural resources have been left out of the panel which, according to a notification, will be known as sub-committee of the cabinet on economic issues.
It will have powers to call federal secretaries of the ministries concerned. It will be in addition to a number of sub-committees on specialised subjects, like Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet, cabinet committee on privatisation, cabinet committee on investment and cabinet committee on energy.
“Senator Dar has practically been elevated to the position of deputy prime minister without a notification as was the case with Shaukat Aziz in the Musharraf government,” said a senior official, adding that the finance minister had already been involved in all major issues from electoral reforms and political dialogue to economic matters.
The sub-committee has been directed to start its proceedings by taking up trade policy 2015-18 and settle all issues among the key stakeholders before its formal approval by the prime minister. The previous trade policies, said informed sources, remained largely unimplemented for more than five years mainly because of lack of support required to be extended by the finance ministry.
Sources said the cabinet committee on economic issues had been constituted on the recommendation of the finance minister to discourage solo flights of some important cabinet members like ministers for commerce and planning. They said embarrassing situations had emerged in some of the recent top-level discussions or presentations to the prime minister because the ministries concerned appeared to be ignorant about certain summaries forwarded by some ministries.
This was apparent recently on the issues of urea, sugar, import and exports, automobile industry, etc. The sources said the issue of three-year national trade policy 2015-18 was one of the few examples where presentations were given to the prime minister for approval but on cross-questioning it emerged that summaries had been prepared without productive consultations with the ministries of textiles, finance and planning.
The same was the case with the long-term policy on automobile development policy despite years of preparations. In some instances, the meetings of the federal cabinet and presentations to the prime minister had to be called off for lack of coordination among various stakeholders.
In one instance, the ministry of industries and production had come up with summaries seeking approval of the ECC for import of fertilisers and export of sugar but it was noted that the ministry of commerce had not been properly consulted before the ECC meeting.
It was against this background, the sources said, that the prime minister was advised by the finance minister that a special forum should be created to settle all critical issues of national economic policy under his leadership in consultation with key economic ministries before their presentation to the prime minister or the federal cabinet.
Mr Dar’s argument was that such issues should be brought before the prime minister or the cabinet only for formal approval to save valuable time of the leadership, instead of using the top political forums as debating clubs.
The sources said the new committee had also been empowered, on the request of the finance ministry, to review annual plans of the ministries concerned.
In almost all meetings of the ECC, Finance Minister Dar and before him his predecessor Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, had expressed grave concern over lack of coordination among the ministries on issues of national importance.
Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2015