ISLAMABAD: The caretaker government has called a meeting to approve billions of rupees worth of new development schemes, violating its mandate and a ban imposed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
A meeting of the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) has been planned for June 12 (Tuesday), according to a notification issued by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform. The notification has also been sent to provincial governments and special areas with a request to attend the meeting.
The ministry has called the meeting without issuing any agenda, which raises questions over purpose of the move. According to sources, the agenda is expected to be finalised over the weekend.
Finance Minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar also holds the portfolio of planning minister. It is not clear whether the ministry has taken her consent before issuing the notification. Akhtar is scheduled to take her first formal briefing from the planning ministry on Friday (today).
The CDWP has the mandate to approve projects of up to Rs3 billion and is headed by deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. Caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk has not yet appointed new deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.
Former deputy chairman Sartaj Aziz has stopped coming to office after May 31 when tenure of the PML-N government ended.
Caretaker Law Minister Barrister Ali Zafar on Wednesday said the interim government could not take long-term decisions and its task was limited to running day-to-day affairs only, except for in circumstances where an emergency situation arose.
Unlike 2013, when the ECP was not very proactive, this time around it kept a close watch on actions taken by the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government during its last two months in office.
Sources said the ECP had also told government ministries not to even make appointments, transfers and postings without its prior consent.
ECP spokesman Altaf Ahmad was not available for comments on the issue of calling a CDWP meeting to approve new schemes.
During its last month in office, the PML-N government had approved about six-dozen new development schemes costing about Rs1.5 trillion. Sources said these projects may also come under ECP scrutiny.
On May 3, the CDWP approved 31 projects worth Rs713 billion including eight projects worth Rs694.8 billion that were referred to the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) for further action.
Then on May 24, it again approved 36 projects worth Rs780 billion including the Mainline-I railway project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) at an initial price tag of $3.4 billion despite having no clarity on the scope and exact cost of the strategic project.
Over the past five years, the affairs of the planning ministry had been run in a questionable manner. Some appointments were made in violation of the rules as people were recruited after the age of superannuation.
Planning ministry’s Joint Chief Economist Operations Dr Ali Bat Khan has already filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) under Article 199 of the Constitution. He has requested the court to declare the appointment of Adviser Development Budget Asif Sheikh illegal and recover the salary paid to him.
In his petition, Khan has accused the planning secretary of patronising the adviser development budget and extending Sheikh’s service contract without the premier’s approval. Similarly, the Economist Group has approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan against alleged illegal appointment of Chief Economist Dr Nadeem Javaid by former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal.
Historically, the chief economist’s position is a grade-22 slot. The Economist Group is one of the technocrat groups constituted under the Civil Service Reforms of 1973. The group is responsible for economic policymaking.
“The Economist Group expects that the caretaker government should show the door to these illegal appointees,” said an officer of the group. The matter would also be raised before the caretaker planning minister on Friday, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2018.