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ISLAMABAD: Putting to rest weeks of speculation about the fate of the key ministry, the government on Wednesday withdrew the portfolio of finance minister from Ishaq Dar.

“We have received a leave application from Mr Dar,” a source at the Prime Minister Secretariat confirmed to Dawn on Wednesday, adding that it had been accepted by the prime minister.

The government issued two notifications in this regard on Wednesday.

“The prime minister has been pleased to allow leave of absence to Ishaq Dar... with immediate effect,” said one of the notifications issued by the cabinet secretariat.

PM accepts leave application of finance minister, who will remain member of federal cabinet

The other communiqué announced the decision to withdraw the portfolios of Finance and Economic Affairs Division from Mr Dar in exercise of powers under rule 3(4) of The Rules of Business, 1973.

Following the move, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will look after the finance minister’s duties until a replacement is found. Sources said Mr Dar had advised the PM to constitute an advisory committee to look into economic issues in his absence.

Mr Dar sent a three-page letter to the PM Office on Nov 20, asking for leave of absence. In it, he narrated his health condition, saying that his surgeon had asked him to avoid international air travel.

He admitted that he had been running the affairs of the ministry via email, WhatsApp etc since Oct 27, and asked for leave without salary.

Earlier, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif had advised PM Abbasi to take Mr Dar on board on the issue of his removal from the ministry.

The premier was hopeful that the embattled finance minister would agree to quit and a full-fledged minister or an adviser on finance would be appointed in his stead, but Mr Dar had earlier refused such an arrangement.

Under Section 17(1) of the Federal Minister and Ministers of State (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) Act 1975, a minister can apply for leave “for urgent reasons of health or private affairs, for a period not exceeding… three months”.

The likely members of the economic advisory committee suggested by Mr Dar include Shaukat Tarin, who served as finance minister under the PPP government, and Dr Ishrat Husain, who was governor of the State Bank during the Musharraf regime. Two other names being floated include Special Assistant to the Prime Mini­ster on Economic Affairs Miftah Ismail, and Special Assistant to the PM on Rev­enue Haroon Akhtar Khan.

A finance ministry source told Dawn that until the government appointed an adviser on finance with a status of minister, the committee would remain ineffective in its ability to steer the country out of the impending economic crisis.

Talking to a private TV channel on Wednesday, Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Pirzada demanded resignation of Mr Dar.

Earlier, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance had also made a similar demand.

Sources say a number of reform initiatives at tax and finance ministry levels are facing undue delays. The situation at the Federal Board of Revenue is also not different from that of the finance ministry.

Mr Dar was indicted on Sept 27 in a corruption reference, but he continues to serve as finance minister amid strong criticism from opposition parties.

An accountability court had on Nov 14 issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the finance minister because of his failure to appear before it.

Mr Dar is accused of accumulating assets beyond his known sources of income.

Milestones in path to exit

► Sept 27: NAB court indicts Ishaq Dar in a corruption reference for possessing assets beyond his known sources of income.

► Nov 4: Sought by court, Dar is admitted to a London hospital for some heart problem.

► Nov 14: Non-bailable warrants are issued due to Dar’s prolonged absence from court.

► Nov 20: Dar formally applies for leave till his recovery from illness.

► Nov 21: Court declares Dar an absconder, rejecting his plea for exemption from appearance.

Ramsha Jahangir

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2017