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ISLAMABAD: In a significant move, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has removed Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — a powerful and trusted aide to Nawaz Sharif — as head of all key economic committees, apparently consolidating powers of Prime Minister Office under his direct control.

The prime minister is also reported to have re-designated Miftah Ismail as his special assistant on economic affairs to be based at PM Office. He was working as chairman and minister of state for the Board of Investment with additional charge of chairman of the Privatisation Commission. It is unclear whether he will continue to head these two bodies.

The move has brought back the direct and powerful central position of the PM Office over federal ministries and divisions it had enjoyed when Shaukat Aziz was prime minister under retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s rule.

Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani initially continued with this arrangement when Syed Naveed Qamar was finance minister and subsequently delegated the powers of the chairmanship of economic committees to former finance minister Shaukat Tarin.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had delegated all economic and financial powers to Ishaq Dar who reportedly headed at one time more than four dozen committees, including those on legal, constitutional and political affairs.

Move restores control over ministries and divisions to PM Office

A senior member of the federal cabinet confirmed that four major committees on economic issues — economic coordination, energy, privatisation and restructuring — had been reconstituted. On top of that, a summary has been formally sent to the president for reconstitution of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) to replace Finance Minister Dar with Prime Minister Abbasi.

A senior official explained that it was the prime minister’s prerogative under the Rules of Business, 1973, to assign any subcommittee of the cabinet to anyone of his cabinet colleagues. Therefore, the Cabinet Committee on Energy (CCoE), Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCoP) and Cabinet Committee on Restructuring (CCoR) were reconstituted by the cabinet division on the direct orders of the PM Office. Since Ecnec is under the constitutional scheme, a different route is required for its restructuring.

All these committees would now be headed by Prime Minister Abbasi as chairman, while Mr Dar would continue to be member of these committees, the official told Dawn.

A senior official at the cabinet division said that a notification for reconstitution of the ECC of the cabinet had been issued, adding that other notifications would follow in due course.

According to the notification, the ECC comprising eight ministers would now be headed by Prime Minister Abbasi, who also holds the portfolios of minister for planning and energy — the later created by merging petroleum and power ministries.

“Most of the times, Mr Dar would act as vice chairman (of the committees) in the absence of PM Abbasi,” a senior cabinet member took pains to explain when contacted. “This does not mean the finance minister lacks Prime Minister Abbasi’s trust; the reason is of technical nature.”

Interestingly, the new prime minister had taken the statistics and privatisation divisions from Mr Dar when Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as prime minister by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case.

The cabinet member explained that it was obviously not possible for the prime minister holding the portfolio of energy to attend meetings of the cabinet committees under the chairmanship of the finance minister. “In case of the prime minister’s absence due to any other commitment, the minister for finance, revenue and economic affairs shall chair the meeting,” he quoted from the notification issued by the cabinet division.

He said the new prime minister was quick in decision making and was making efforts to complete major projects initiated by the PML-N government before the next general elections.

Mr Abbasi, while presiding over a meeting on water sector projects on Friday, said: “We must take decisions; not taking decisions is not an option anymore.”

Wapda officials told the meeting that all strategic projects were on targets in terms of timelines. The Kacchi canal project, delayed for 15 years, is ready for inauguration this month. It will irrigate 72,000 acres of land in Dera Bugti.

It was also reported that the first unit of the 969MW Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project would be commissioned on schedule in February 2018, followed by the second in March and the third and forth units in April 2018. Likewise, the first unit of 1,410MW Tarbela IV extension will be ready for generation by February 2018, the second by April and the third unit by May.

The meeting was also briefed on the ongoing projects, including the Dasu hydropower project and Diamer-Bhasha dam.

The prime minister directed the authorities concerned to control cost escalation without compromising on quality of work and ensure continuous monitoring of the projects. He also directed that these projects be included in the agenda of the next meeting of the Council of Common Interests to evolve a consensus among all stakeholders.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2017

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