ISLAMABAD: Positions at key regulatory authorities are up for grabs through political and bureaucratic lobbying.

Sources familiar with the matter told Dawn on Friday that the process for induction of members and commissioners of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) is in the advanced stage and shortcomings are coming to the fore.

In the case of Ogra, the sources said the process for induction of member gas has taken off in a suspicious manner. Under the Ogra Act, member gas is appointed for an initial term of three years, eligible for re-appointment for a term of four years. The former member gas Muhammad Arif was appointed by an independent selection committee led by Dr Ishrat Husain in November 2019 without any influence from the target sector to be regulated — the Petroleum Division or its entities.

In most of the past regulatory inductions, the finance minister used to lead the selection committee with members from the Privatisation Commission, private sector experts and relevant ministries for an independent and non-partisan selection.

On the expiry of his term, Ogra did not recommend Muhammad Arif for re-appointment because of his strong push for the reduction of gas losses. Incumbent chairman Ogra Masroor Khan thus evaluated his performance as “average” and did not mention in the summary the evaluations of “excellent” and “very good” by two former chairpersons of Ogra.

Instead, Ogra chief recommended initiating a fresh appointment process based on his liking without considering evaluations of two previous chairpersons. Interestingly, Ogra law requires that a performance report should be placed before a committee for performance evaluation to evaluate the merits of the case of member gas for reappointment for another term of four years.

As if that was not enough, the Prime Minister’s Office has recommended to the federal cabinet constitution of a selection committee, for the appointment of member gas, which is overwhelmingly tilted towards the stakeholders Ogra would be required to regulate.

The summary suggested a selection committee led by the minister of state and secretary of petroleum, chairman Ogra himself and additional secretaries of cabinet and establishment divisions as members of the 5-member committee. This involves a conflict of interest since the Petroleum Division has to suggest policy measures and the regulator has to regulate the sector independently of the Petroleum Division and its entities. A candidate selected by the minister, secretary and Ogra chief may remain beholden to the selectors and follow informal orders.

In the case of SECP, the Finance Division has finalised a list of six candidates for the appointment of three commissioners for three years but recommended for appointment of three candidates one of whom did not even meet the basic qualification criteria according to his CV attached with the summary to the Cabinet for approval through circulation. Sources said all candidates were suggested by a minister.

The Finance Division proposed that Akif Saeed, Abdul Rehman Warriach and Mujtaba Ahmad Lodhi be appointed as the commissioners SECP for three years, being the principal candidates. The 20-year minimum experience is required under the basic qualification criteria announced in the advertisement in line with the law. Interestingly, Mr Lodhi, based in London, started his professional career in January 2005 and thus lacks experience by at least two years.

The sources said the Cabinet had approved through circulation the panel of the first three recommended commissioners but formal notifications were awaited.

The three other reserve shortlisted candidates include Raheel Q. Ahmed, Imran Inayat Butt and Mian Aamir Mumtaz. The Finance Division has proposed that if any of the candidates do not join then the following candidate be offered the position. It has also sought a waiver of a legal condition that required recruitment within 120 days.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2022

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