Lobbying on for post of finance secretary

Jahanzeb Khan, Tariq Pasha among favourites to replace Shahid Mahmood


Days before the retirement of Finance Secretary Shahid Mahmood, influential lobbies are pitching their favourite candidates for the prestigious post in the powerful federal ministry.

The names of Punjab Planning and Development Board Chairman Muhammad Jahanzeb Khan and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Tariq Pasha have been floated by different quarters, according to sources in the Establishment Division.

The post will fall vacant on Friday, with Mahmood retiring after serving as secretary for about seven months. Mahmood, according to sources, is unlikely to get an extension because there was a considered opinion in the Prime Minister’s Office that no one should serve on a cadre post after retirement.

It is also not clear whether Mahmood will secure the post of senior adviser to executive director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington or executive director of the Asian Development Bank in Manila. He was serving as senior adviser to executive director of IMF before his appointment as special secretary in the finance ministry in April last year.

The sources said that Mahmood’s move to stop some questionable payments for advertisements released during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s rule did not go down well with the PM Office which might affect his prospects for winning back the post in Washington or Manila.

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Former finance minister Ishaq Dar was in favour of Tariq Pasha, who remained his confidante and also served as his special assistant, said the sources, adding that PM’s Adviser on Finance Dr Miftah Ismail had also developed a working relationship with Pasha even before his elevation to the current post. Ismail played the role of a bridge between the FBR and the PM Office after the departure of Dar from the scene.

Jahanzeb Khan has been serving in the Punjab Planning and Development Department since November 2015. Khan, according to the sources, enjoyed the backing of the PM Office and the Punjab government.

Khan belongs to the 15th Common Training Programme of the civil service from the powerful Pakistan Administrative Service Group. He enjoys a good reputation and is also a batchmate of the secretary to the PM. In recent months, 15th Common Group officers have been appointed on key posts, although some of them were not even in the Basic Pay Scale 22.

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The names of Commerce Secretary Younus Dagha and Economic Affairs Secretary Arif Ahmad Khan were also being tipped for the post of finance secretary, with the former being a third favourite after Khan and Pasha, said the sources, adding that Dagha, having served as additional secretary of external finance, might be a better choice, but he might prefer to retain his current post.

The new finance secretary will be immediately exposed to political pressures ahead of the coming general elections. The PML-N government has been heavily relying on discretionary development spending ahead of the elections and it distributed Rs54 billion among parliamentarians in the first five and a half months of the current fiscal year.

Another main challenge for the new secretary will be to handle the delicate situation at the external account front. He will be asked to meet the mounting external financing requirements, valuing more than $20 billion, while also avoiding a new IMF programme.

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