ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to constitute a five-member high-powered committee to examine potential candidates for the post of Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) chairman for four years with effect from April 16.
According to a senior government official, a summary has been sent to the prime minister for establishing the committee, headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and comprising Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and federal secretaries of cabinet, establishment and law. An independent private-sector expert will be assisting the body.
“Around two dozen candidates applied before the deadline of February 4 for the coveted post on the quasi-judicial body including some closely related to or working with the government,” the official said.
Prominent candidates include Ministry of Petroleum Adviser Zahid Muzaffar, who is close to both the ministers in the committee. He is believed to be a close confidant of some influential ministers and also holds the additional portfolio of Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDC) chairman.
A former temporary member of Ogra and additional secretary of the Cabinet Division, Khusro Pervez, and four staff members of Ogra are also in the race. Those applying from Ogra include Member Gas Amir Naseem, Member Finance Noorul Haq, Senior Executive Director Colonel Farrukh Nasim and Executive Director Mohammad Yasin.
The official described the inclusion of two ministers in the committee as inappropriate as they had conflict of interest because of their ministries even if they might not have any personal interest.
Elaborating, he said Ogra was regulating various functions, activities and companies related to the petroleum ministry and hence the petroleum minister should not have a say in choosing the chairman to ensure independence of the regulator and balance the interests of all stakeholders - the government, the consumer and the business.
Similarly, profits and losses of all state-run companies or prices of various products had a direct bearing on the finances maintained by the finance ministry and hence the finance minister should stay away from the selection process.
The PPP, which was previously in power, brought a few people of its choice in the regulatory bodies, which sparked controversies and scandals, some of which were still under consideration of the Supreme Court or being probed by the investigation agencies.
The PML-N should learn lessons from the past and avoid mistakes the PPP government made, they cautioned.
An official close to the finance minister, however, categorically said the government was not changing rules or introducing a practice of its choice.
“We are following rules, regulations and precedents in the most transparent manner,” he insisted, saying the proposed selection committee would have a wider representation and would be assisted by a non-partisan expert.
Even then, he said, the committee would recommend a panel of three candidates and would have no powers to select anybody. Also, once selected by the prime minister, the Ogra chairman would be completely free to act in accordance with the law, he added.
The chairman’s slot will fall vacant on April 15 when Saeed Ahmad Khan completes his four-year term. Earlier, the government had suspended Khan and then tried to remove him but its moves were overturned by the Islamabad High Court and the Federal Public Service Commission.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2016.
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