ISLAMABAD: With the noose tightening around Ishaq Dar’s neck, there are reports that he may not continue as federal finance minister.
The Express Tribune has learnt that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is considering replacing Dar with either Dr Miftah Ismail, his special assistant on economic affairs, or Sartaj Aziz, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.
Also being slated as Dar’s likely successor are Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Commerce Minister Pervez Malik and Punjab Finance Minister Ayesha Ghouse Pasha.
Aysha Ghouse’s elevation as federal finance minister is linked with Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s future role in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), according sources.
Dar’s role has already been curtailed in Abbasi’s cabinet. The finance minister was also not proactively handling the official business lately, particularly at a time when decisions are required on an urgent basis to control the downward trend in the economy.
The opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is also piling pressure on the government to remove Dar. “If Ishaq Dar is not willing to resign, then the PM should take action and replace him,” tweeted party’s central leader Asad Umer on Wednesday. “[The] economy [is] in crises and the finance minister is absent.”
Sources, however, insist that Abbasi would not ask Dar to resign as finance minister until he gets himself sidelined.
Absent from the country, Dar has currently been in London, along with deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other members of the Sharif family.
Dar’s absence from the country came up for discussion at the Senate Standing Committee on Finance on Wednesday after the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman announced that refund payments would be made only after the finance minister announced a date to this effect.
Tariq Pasha, the FBR chairman, assured the parliamentary panel that Dar would return soon. “God willing, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will come back to Pakistan,” said Pasha before the committee.
Saleem Mandviwala, the chairman of the committee, was sceptical that Dar would return to Pakistan given the prevailing political situation.
Wednesday turned out to be a bad day for Dar. On the one hand an accountability court issued bailable warrants for his arrest and on the other, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed an appeal in the Supreme Court to reopen the Hudabiya Papers Mills case.
Dar’s problems were further compounded after NAB’s regional office in Lahore ordered that he could not sell or transfer his properties until the investigation is pending against him.
Mandviwala, meanwhile, lamented that after becoming minister, Dar had ignored the standing committee and hardly attended its meetings.
“I have stopped requesting Dar to attend the meeting because of his indifference towards the parliamentary business,” he said.
He also took exception to Tariq Pasha’s statement that the finance minister would announce the new date for paying refunds.
“There was a time when a low-cadre officer of the FBR would give taxpayers’ refunds,” the senator said, adding, “We should be ashamed of the fact that now refunds are being given by the finance minister and the prime minister.”
For the past four years, the PML-N government used taxpayers’ genuine refunding to inflate its revenue collection, which has adversely affected working capital requirements of the businesses.
According to some estimates, the FBR is withholding around Rs250 billion genuine refunds.
The FBR chairman’s statement that Dar would decide about the refunds payments is contrary to the Income Tax and Sales Tax laws that describe the procedure to pay taxpayers’ money.