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ISLAMABAD: About two weeks ahead of the announcement of the federal budget, the government on Thursday made another change to its economic team and appointed Naveed Kamran Baloch as the federal finance secretary after removing Muhammad Younas Dagha.

The coveted post has been retained by the powerful Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), formerly known as the District Management Group. This group has jealously kept the position under its control for decades, with the exception of Dr Waqar Masood Khan who was an outsider.

Mr Baloch, a grade-22 officer of the PAS, was until Wednesday posted as secretary of the cabinet division and has been replaced by Maroof Afzal, another PAS officer working as information technology secretary.

The government reappointed Naeem Zamindar as chairman of the Board of Investment after Haroon Sharif resigned from the position on Wednesday. Mr Zamindar was the BOI chief during the tenure of the PML-N government and was replaced by Mr Sharif.

Naeem Zamindar reappointed as chairman of Board of Investment

Mr Dagha, also a PAS officer, had taken over as finance secretary exactly two months ago, on March 23, but could not get along with the prime minister’s adviser on finance, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

Sources said that Mr Dagha had assumed a “tough” position in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in line with the stance of his previous boss Asad Umar. However, he was overruled by Dr Shaikh and the new governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, Reza Baqir.

Mr Baqir then took the leading role in talks with the IMF as Dr Shaikh sidelined Mr Dagha on the matter. When approached by reporters during the last days of IMF negotiations, Mr Dagha had said he had nothing to share and the “appropriate forum was the adviser’s office”.

According to a source, Mr Dagha felt that the finance adviser had negotiated a bad deal for Pakistan. “The team led by former finance minister Asad Umar, of which Mr Dagha was an important part, had softened the IMF programme in significant ways,” the source said.

Dr Shaikh wanted the programme to be “front-loaded”, meaning most of the difficult reform measures should be taken upfront rather than being lagged out over a period of time. He believes that “back-loaded reform measures never lose steam and are difficult to implement, causing embarrassment in the international community”.

The differences between the adviser and the secretary reached a point where the latter did not participate in the last few rounds with the IMF before the programme was finalised.

Mr Baloch, meanwhile, belongs to a known feudal but educated family of Naushahro Feroz. In civil service for over 30 years, he has served in several key positions, both in the provinces and at the centre.

A son-in-law of Ghulam Mujtaba Jatoi, the younger brother of former prime minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Mr Baloch joined the civil services in 1985.

His father was a chief engineer in the irrigation department. His elder brother Alam Baloch was secretary in Sindh’s irrigation department when he was killed.

In Sindh, he served at several key positions, including food secretary, finance secretary, information secretary and principal secretary to the chief minister.

Sources in Sindh government told Dawn that Dr Shaikh and Mr Baloch enjoyed a good relationship while serving in the province when the former was the provincial finance minister.

Also, Mr Baloch was finance secretary in the province when the incumbent chief minister, Murad Ali Shah, was its finance minister. Later on, he became principal secretary when Mr Shah became the chief minister. He was later promoted to grade 22 and transferred to Islamabad.

Imtiaz Ali in Karachi contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019