ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Wednesday removed Finance Minister Ishaq Dar from the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCOP), placing himself at the helm of the cabinet’s second most important committee on economic affairs.
This will be the first time in a decade that the PM will head the CCOP himself. Dar, meanwhile, is not even a member of the committee that he used to chair just three weeks ago.
Dar who is being probed for charges of holding assets beyond his known sources of income – has already been removed as chairman of the cabinet’s most powerful committee, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC). However, he was retained as ECC member.
This raises doubts about the political future of the man who, just weeks ago, was the most powerful individual in the civilian set-up after prime minister.
“The Prime Minister has been pleased to reconstitute the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation,” says a Cabinet Division’s notification issued last week.
The CCOP would now comprise only six members, including PM as chairman. The members would be Minister for Commerce and Textile Pervaiz Malik, Minister for Industries Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Minister for Ports and Shipping Hasil Bazenjo and Minister for Privatisation (when appointed).
The CCOP is responsible for taking decisions on the sale of government assets. During the tenure of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the cabinet body had approved the sale of $1.7 billion worth the government stakes in half a dozen entities.
The finance minister’s removal from the CCOP appears a bit strange as he played a key role in finalising the sale price of a public-sector entity. The finance minister remained an integral part of the CCOP since the privatisation policy was introduced in early 1990s.
The Chairman of the Privatisation Commission had also not been made a member of the newly-constituted CCOP. As many as 16 officials will be invited through special invitations.
Dar is not even among those who will be invited through special invitations. Among the special invitees are: ministers of state for petroleum and power, governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), chairman Board of Investment (BoI), chairman Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, and secretaries of all economic ministries.
The government has not yet appointed a federal minister for privatisation, also handled by Dar previously.
Earlier, there were reports that the government may assign the privatisation portfolio to Danyial Aziz.
According to sources, Senator Awais Leghari wanted to become privatisation minister and refused to take the science and technology portfolio.
Both the ministries are currently without portfolios.
PM Abbasi has not either notified Haroon Akhtar Khan as his aide. Khan was a special assistant to the former PM Nawaz Sharif on revenue.
Similarly, the notification for appointing Tariq Fatemi as special assistant has not been issued either. The government is considering appointing Fatemi – who was earlier removed as special assistant to PM on foreign affairs — as chairman BoI.
During Nawaz Sharif’s four-year tenure, Dar was the most powerful person after the prime minister. He at one time was chairman of over 45 committees. Dar had direct access to Nawaz Sharif and was a regular visitor of the Prime Minister House.
Dar also acted as a go-between with the General Headquarters (GHQ), said the sources. He was also leading the PML-N’s legal team fighting the Panama Papers case.
The ousted prime minister blindly trusted Dar, and would clear summaries sent by him almost immediately.
On Wednesday, Dar held a meeting with Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi, said the sources, adding that the two sides discussed Dar’s role in Abbasi’s cabinet.
Dar also skipped the first cabinet meeting held on Tuesday. PM Abbasi told the cabinet that Dar was abroad. Dar had gone to Dubai.