HBL chief tapped for incoming finance team

Published March 6, 2024
HBL CEO Muhammad Aurangzeb. — HBL website
HBL CEO Muhammad Aurangzeb. — HBL website

ISLAMABAD: The chief executive officer of Habib Bank Ltd (HBL), Pakistan’s largest bank, is likely to be tapped for a top position in the finance team of newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, two sources told Reuters, ahead of talks with the IMF for a fresh bailout deal.

Pakistan urgently needs a fresh IMF agreement to shore up its struggling $350 billion economy which is suffering from high inflation, low reserve and high external financing needs.

Muhammad Auran­gzeb, currently the CEO of HBL, is likely to be appointed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Finance, two sources said — one in the finance ministry and the other with direct knowledge of discussions.

A final decision is yet to be taken. Sharif has to pick a cabinet after being sworn in on Monday — most importantly a finance team, with Pakistan’s current $3 billion, nine-month IMF programme expiring next month.

Spokespeople for Sharif’s party and HBL did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

When contacted, a spokesperson of HBL told Dawn that they cannot offer any comment at this moment.

Local broadcaster Geo News also reported that Aurganzeb would get the post of finance minister, citing sources close to the prime minister, but the banker does not have a seat in parliament which is required by law to become a full minister.

It was not immediately clear if Aurangzeb, even as special assistant, would be the de facto finance tsar with Sharif or someone else holding the additional portfolio of finance minister.

Aurangzeb has also served as the CEO of JP Morgan’s Global Corporate Bank based in Asia and has extensive experience working with global markets.

Besides the IMF deal, Pakistan also needs to attract foreign investment to bring in funds to shore up its low reserves, which are critical to meeting large external financing needs, as well as kick-starting its flagging economy.

After taking the oath, Sharif immediately met finance officials and advisers, directing them to open talks with the IMF for an Extended Fund Facility — a long-tenure package which analysts say is mandatory to save the country from default.

Aurangzeb was a part of that meeting, a video of the gathering shared with journalists by the government’s information team showed.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2024

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