Govt plans COVID-19 Secretariat to coordinate with donors

Published: March 26, 2020
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The Planning Commission deputy chairman office said the mandate of NDMA was specific and did not overlap with the task assigned to the commission. PHOTO: FILE

The Planning Commission deputy chairman office said the mandate of NDMA was specific and did not overlap with the task assigned to the commission. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: The federal government’s response to mitigate the impact of coronavirus pandemic has remained fragmented as it now plans to set up the COVID-19 Secretariat at the Planning Commission in a bid to coordinate with donors.

Under the Rules of Business 1973, the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) is responsible for all types of coordination with the international creditors and donors.

The Planning Commission has called a meeting on Thursday of the government agencies and international creditors concerned to discuss the setting up of COVID-19 Secretariat, its terms of reference and the framework for a uniform response from the ministries and development partners”.

The meeting will also discuss the mechanism for coordination with the donors and will finalise the way forward.

The move appears surprising as the Rules of Business 1973, which governs the business of federal government, authorises the EAD to coordinate with the donors.

What rules say

EAD will make the “assessment of requirements, programming and negotiations for external economic assistance from foreign governments and organisations”, reads the Rules of Business 1973.

These state that matters relating to IBRD, IDA and IFC (the World Bank Group), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and IFA, economic matters pertaining to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, governing council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP), Colombo Plan and Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will be the responsibility of the EAD.

Also, negotiations and coordination activities, etc, pertaining to economic cooperation with other countries, assessment of requirements, programming and negotiations for securing technical assistance for Pakistan from foreign government organisations including nominations for training courses will be dealt with by the EAD.

Sources said the Planning Commission’s move had caused unease in the EAD as well as among the donors that contacted the EAD to get clarity on the matter. This will also divert resources and create confusion between the planning ministry and the EAD.

But Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jahanzeb Khan defends the decision of setting up the COVID-19 Secretariat at the commission.

“The National Coordination Committee for COVID-19 has established a sub-committee on economic analysis and the Planning Commission deputy chairman is the convener of the sub-committee,” said a written response given by the deputy chairman office.

It added the sub-committee held a meeting on March 19 where the ministries concerned presented their initial assessment of the economic impact of COVID-19. The development partners were invited to coordinate their activities on the basis of need and demand expressed by the ministries and provinces, said the deputy chairman office.

It added that the Planning Commission was coordinating for development and economic matters and regularly interacted with the development partners for the purpose.

Economic Affairs Minister Hammad Azhar did not respond to the request for comment.

The National Security Committee has declared the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) as the lead agency to deal with the logistic needs to mitigate the risks of coronavirus contagion and other related matters.

Responding to a question, the deputy chairman office said the mandate of NDMA was specific and did not overlap with the task assigned to the Planning Commission by the National Coordination Committee.

There was also confusion about who would prepare the economic and social impact cost analysis of coronavirus. Initially, the mandate had been given to the Ministry of Finance by PM Imran.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh had also said the PM had set up a committee under his command.

But the deputy chairman office has now conveyed to the finance ministry that the Planning Commission will perform this job. Instead of using in-house resources, the Planning Commission has outsourced the job to Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2020.

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