ISLAMABAD: The prime minister has brought back Ahsan Iqbal, the incumbent interior minister, as minister for planning and development – reassuring China about the continuity of an arrangement that had been in place for the last three years for implementation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
Due to his new portfolio, Ahsan Iqbal will also be co-chairman of Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) – the highest policymaking body of the CPEC. This will end uncertainty about Pakistani counterpart of Chinese chairman of the National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC).
After the government assigned the portfolio of interior ministry to Iqbal and ended the active role of Planning Ministry in the CPEC execution, there was confusion among Pakistani and Chinese authorities about ownership of the CPEC-related functions.
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This issue was raised by China Vice Premier Wang Yang during his meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi last month. Iqbal has been given the additional charge of the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform in addition to his main responsibility as minister for interior.
“The PM has been pleased to assign, with immediate effect, the additional portfolio of Planning, Development and Reform to Ahsan Iqbal,” read a notification issued on Friday by the Cabinet Division.
With the return of Iqbal, the CPEC work has also been given back to the Ministry of Planning and Development. Iqbal worked as minister for planning and development for four years and two months in the cabinet of former PM Nawaz Sharif.
On August 31, Prime Minister Abbasi set up a Cabinet Committee on the CPEC for the implementation of the strategic $55 billion project, abolishing the role of the Planning Commission in the CPEC implementation. This created uncertainty at many levels. The PM did not either make Planning Commission’s Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz a member of the cabinet body on the CPEC.
The terms of the reference of the Cabinet Committee on the CPEC suggested that the planning ministry would not have any role from now on in the planning and execution of the CPEC-related projects.
The PM will still be chairman of the CPEC committee but the powers to review the implementation of the CPEC projects and making initial arrangements for setting the JCC agenda will be exercised by Iqbal.
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Due to ambiguity on the institutional arrangement in Pakistan under PM Abbasi, the JCC biannual meeting that was due in July had been delayed.
In 2014, Pakistan and China had jointly launched the CPEC as part of China’s strategic One Belt, One Road initiative. Initially, cost of the CPEC projects of energy and infrastructure was $46 billion. That number has jumped to $55 billion after the inclusion of more projects.
“The next JCC meeting is expected to take place in November and I will soon start taking the review meetings of the CPEC projects,” said Iqbal while talking to The Express Tribune. “The Ministry of Planning and Development will also provide the secretariat support to the CPEC.”
He said Sartaj Aziz would remain deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. “Aziz is a seasoned politician and economist and my job will be to assist him in his work,” he added, while explaining the new working arrangement.
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The deputy chairman will be responsible for day-to-day working of the Planning Commission while the planning minister will be responsible for giving policy, and executing and planning the CPEC projects.
Iqbal will also take care of the government’s development agenda, particularly the development projects that the PML-N government has started and wanted to complete before next general elections.
This will ensure continuity of the work, as the government faces time constraints due to fast approaching general elections.