Experts say this appointment is too little too late
Lawmaker thanks Ishaq Dar for recommending his name for the position
ISLAMABAD: The appointment of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker Rana Afzal Khan as state minister for finance and revenue looks to be a measure too little too late, as the appointment is cosmetic in nature and can’t help redress the downward slide in the finance ministry.
Experts believe that the decision of appointing a state minister instead of a federal minister or minister in-charge would not help reform the ministry, as the new minister has no expertise in handling the ministry.
Sources in the government told Pakistan Today that, initially, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had proposed the appointment of a federal minister to deal with the chaos in the financial affairs of the country, but former prime minister Nawaz Sharif did not allow the appointment of full minister, as he wanted Ishaq Dar to keep calling the shots.
Other than the involvement of federal minister Ishaq Dar—on leave on a medical ground—and direct interference of Prime Minister House, it was agreed later that an advisory committee would run the affairs of the ministry.
Rana Afzal—MNA from Faisalabad—is currently the parliamentary secretary for finance, but lacks any technical expertise to help manage the deteriorating financial situation of the country.
His appointment comes a month after federal finance minister Ishaq Dar requested the PM for a ‘leave’, after which the top job in the Ministry of Finance was left vacant.
Since the change of cabinet following the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and subsequent cases against Ishaq Dar—which apparently forced him to remain out of the country—the important ministry is being run directly or indirectly by various individuals.
PM Abbasi allowed his Special Assistant on Economic Affairs Miftah Ismail to run the affairs of the ministry; however, Ishaq Dar instructed the ministry’s officials to only follow him; thus practically running the ministry through telephone and Whatsapp calls.
However, Dar had to go on a leave following immense pressure from the government and financial institutions.
Presently, Principal Secretary of PM Abbasi, Fawad Hassan Fawad, was directly running the affairs of the ministry, keeping Miftah Ismail as the front man. Affairs of revenue division were being supervised by Haroon Akhtar, who is the advisor to PM on revenue.
“As the interference of many peoples in the affairs of the ministry was already adding to woes of the economy, the fresh hotchpotch arrangement will not be giving a relief to the finance sector, since the state minister is not fully a minister in-charge,” sources claimed.
“Moreover, Rana lacks the required expertise and background to deal with the entire technical sector. He cannot even face hard and technical queries in the parliament until he is briefed by officials of the ministry.”
According to insiders, the government was early in a mood to appoint a federal minister to look after the important ministry; however, the plan failed after objection from the Sharif Family—which still wished Dar to run the affairs of the ministry. “Dar still has a say in the ministry of finance, as he enjoys the portfolio of a federal minister,” the sources added.
Experts have said that the government is “showing non-seriousness towards the deteriorating financial situation” by making such half-hearted and stopgap arrangements, adding the ever-widening trade deficit, depleting reserves, and ballooning borrowings need a serious and immediate attention.
Former finance minister Dr Hafiz Pasha has projected that the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) foreign currency reserves would fall to $3 billion by June 2018, excluding $6 billion worth of short-term loans that the central bank has acquired from domestic commercial banks.
The current account deficit that had been recorded at $12.4 billion in the last fiscal year has already touched $6.6 billion from July through November FY18, according to the SBP. The deficit was about 91 per cent higher than the previous year. The government is now largely depending on short-term loans.
According to Pasha’s forecast, Pakistan’s external financing needs will be $32 billion for the next 16 to 18 months, of which only $8 billion will come through CPEC financing and foreign direct investment, whereas the government will have to resort to borrowing to cover the rest.
Pakistan has been facing difficulties in managing its external account due to mounting foreign debt repayments and a widening current account deficit. The country raised $2.5 billion last month by floating bonds to take pressure off the falling foreign exchange reserves.
Despite a grave picture of the economy, the newly appointed state minister, however, seems happy and optimistic to overcome the financial woes by early 2018. After the approval of appointment as minister, Rana Afzal said that he will follow in footsteps of Dar.
Talking exclusively to Pakistan Today, Rana said that though it is a very difficult task to meet the challenges of economy and finance, he would try his best to manage financial matters of the country.
“As the investment made so far in various projects and programmes are yet to give results, I expect better financial position of the country by early 2018,” he said.
He said the prime minister had approved his appointment as state minister for finance. He said the Cabinet Division would issue a notification to this effect soon, after which he would take an oath.
Praising the performance of Ishaq Dar, Rana said that the foundation of the present economy was laid down by Dar. “He has great contribution in reviving economy since 2013,” he added.
“I am thankful to Dar for recommending my name for the post of minister. I have spent a good time working with him as parliamentary secretary on finance,” he added.
Ishaq Dar, who is facing a corruption trial, has been in London allegedly receiving medical treatment for heart problems.
According to details, Afzal, who was elected to the Lower House from the NA-82 constituency, obtained an engineering degree from NED, Karachi, and an MA in Political Science from Balochistan University, Quetta.
He was commissioned in the Pakistan Army and served as a captain from 1971 to 1976.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Afzal served in a variety of positions, including as a member of the executive committee at the Faisalabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and vice chairman at the Water and Sanitation Agency.
He also served as an MPA in the Punjab Assembly from 1997 to 1999 and returned for a second term during the 2008 general elections.