ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet is expected to condone a delay in the shipment of vehicles imported by overseas Pakistanis due to the Covid-19 pandemic and decide the way forward on the audit of the regulatory bodies’ functions by the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP).

A cabinet meeting, to be presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, is scheduled to be held tomorrow (Tuesday) to take up a 14-point agenda. The meeting will consider amendments to the federal government’s Rules of Business 1973 and allow an “amnesty scheme for overstaying foreigners to exit Pakistan”.

A senior government official told Dawn that the cabinet might allow the creation of a ‘Regulatory Audit Oversight Board’ with specialised experts from various fields of economics on the recommendation of an inter-ministerial committee, which includes the cabinet division and the planning commission, instead of allowing the AGP to conduct an audit of regulatory functions of over a dozen regulators in the country.

The argument is that the Pakistan Telecom Authority, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra), National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Competition Commission of Pakistan, Drug Regulatory Authority, etc, had a quasi-judicial role in regulating highly technical and specialised telecom, oil and gas, electricity, corporate and health matters.

Therefore, any forum to examine their regulatory functions based on economic vision and output should have greater expertise and a better understanding of these sectors rather than typical auditors focusing on a straightjacket application and a narrow definition of rules and regulations.

The PTI government has also been critical of the audit role and capacity of the constitutional audit body, ie the Auditor General of Pakistan. Therefore, the planning commission and the cabinet division are of the view that an oversight board comprising experts from different economic fields should be created to judge decisions and determinations of the regulators.

The AGP had been insisting on auditing the regulatory roles and functions of the regulators and certain parliamentary bodies had supported such moves. Some other parliamentary panels had opposed allowing usual audit teams to look into the functions of regulators as they are specialised and technical in nature and could not be examined by auditors.

The regulatory bodies had in recent years resisted auditors of AGP when they tried to conduct an audit of their regulatory functions on the premise that this would clip their independence.

The regulators have generally taken the stance that their accounts were audited by chartered accountancy firms of international repute and their finances could also be examined by the AGP only if the AGP’s auditors have the capacity to judge their economic decision-making and regulatory roles.

In one such recent example, the law division supported Ogra’s viewpoint that its regulatory functions — such as determining oil and gas prices and issuing or terminating licences — could not be audited by the AGP.

Imported vehicles

Informed sources said the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet approved a commerce ministry’s summary in May last year to condone the delay of late shipment of vehicles imported by overseas Pakistanis subject to compliance with all other import conditions. However, the matter remained pending because of reservations expressed by some cabinet members.

The ministry had demanded the condonation of a few days of delay in shipment of vehicles imported by overseas Pakistanis through customs clearing agents on the ground that their vehicles had been stuck up due to shipping constraints even though they had documentary evidence of having booked their vehicles within the permissible timeframe.

Under the import policy, overseas Pakistanis can import three-year-old cars and other five-year-old vehicles under personal baggage, transfer of residence and gift schemes.

The vehicles under question had missed these three- or five-year age deadlines by a few days to arrive at Pakistan’s ports due to Covid-related shipping challenges. These vehicles are reportedly turning into junk at Karachi port.

The cabinet is also expected to allow an “amnesty scheme for overstaying foreigners to exit Pakistan” on the interior ministry’s request and approve the Annual Report 2020-21 and State of Industry Report 2021 of Nepra. Interestingly, both reports were published about six months ago and are available on Nepra’s website.

The cabinet will consider exempting the First Women Bank from the statutory requirement of a half-yearly review of 2018-19 and 2020-21 fiscal years by the statutory auditors and retaining KPMG as the accounting firm to conduct an audit for the 2020-21 fiscal year for the sixth year running.

The meeting is expected to approve Pakistan’s accession to the United Nations Convention against Trans­national Organised Crime protocol on trafficking in persons, and the ratification of Unesco’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

The federal cabinet will consider approval of the appointment of the CEO of Kissan Support Services Limited (a subsidiary of Zarai Taraqqiati Bank), notification of an authorised officer under Pakistan Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952 and an additional charge of the managing director of the Korangi Fisheries Harbour Authority to director general of Ports and Shipping, Karachi.

The cabinet will consider reconstituting the board of directors of two subsidiaries of Pakistan Railways — Railway Constructions Pakistan Ltd and Freight Transportation Company.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022

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