Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is actively considering further expanding his core economic team by bringing in another old guard. The decision-making process, however, remains painstakingly slow despite an already top-heavy administration.
Former Secretary of Finance and former Special Assistant to former Prime Minister (SAPM) Imran Khan, Dr Waqar Masood Khan, could be a new member of Dar’s core team, which already comprises of six people. The finance minister is said to have told his aides that Dr Masood could join the team anytime.
It is not clear what responsibilities Dar will assign to the likely new team member, irrespective of the nomenclature of his portfolio.
Earlier, Dr Masood had served as SAPM on Revenue – a position currently filled by two members – presumably looking after policy and operational matters separately.
After assuming responsibilities in late September last year, Dar appointed Tariq Bajwa as SAPM on finance and Tariq Pasha as SAPM on revenue. Later on, he brought in Ashfaq Tola as Chairman of the Reforms and Resource Mobilisation Commission with the status of Minister of State.
Dar had retained Dr Aisha Pasha as Minister of State for Finance, Hamid Yaqoob Shaikh as Finance Secretary and Awais Manzur as Special Secretary Finance. Dr Pasha had offered to step down but Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif instructed for her to continue. Her assignments, however, are now largely limited to parliamentary business while Bajwa is believed to be a bridge between the bureaucracy and the finance minister’s office.
It has to be seen what role the finance minister crafts for Dr Masood – an official who had expertise in dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Dar’s decision to bring three of his trusted aides on board, however, has already made the top administration heavy, creating duplication of work and confusion in ranks. Still, economic policy and administrative decision-making remain painstakingly slow.
It also seems that there is no consensus in the economic team on whether the country’s survival path passes through the IMF. The government could not appoint a permanent director general for the debt office from the private sector and the responsibility has been given to a grade-20 bureaucrat.
The Fiscal Policy Unit remains incapacitated. There is also a tendency in the bureaucracy to retain retiring officers of liking, even if that means placing them in positions in which they may lack experience.
Two weeks ago, the finance minister announced a 100% executive allowance (EA) for all employees of the federal secretariat – a move aimed at ending the disparity in salaries, caused by an earlier move by the finance ministry. While the announcement had been made in a press conference, the Finance Ministry has not yet been able to ensure that the words of the finance minister are honoured and pushed through procedural formalities. Despite the announcement, the delay in the notification for the grant of the allowance has aggravated the desperation and demotivation of the officers.
In June 2022, the federal cabinet had approved the EA for officers (BS-17 to 22) of the federal secretariat, however, the Finance Division issued a notification on July 19, 2022, granting the allowance to only two service groups – the Pakistan Administrative Service and Office Management Group.
The deprived officers observed a pen-down strike and staged a protest in front of the Finance Division. Subsequently, Dar admitted that the decision to grant the EA, at the rate of 150% of basic pay, to only two service groups was wrong and discriminatory. He assured equal treatment in this case but the matter remains unresolved despite considerable time having lapsed.
Dar had informed the press conference that the prime minister had approved the 100% EA for all the officers serving in the secretariat. The notification, however, has yet to be issued.
The provision of EA to only two cadres has a demoralising and demotivating impact on the performance of excluded officers who dispose of the same nature of work under one roof. The basic question is of equal treatment, respect and acknowledgement which have been denied to the remaining officers of the federal secretariat, according to the employees. Given the delay in the notification, the aggrieved officers on Wednesday reminded the finance minister to fulfil his promise of equal treatment.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2023.
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