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August 25, 2018

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Conflict of interest ensues as Bakhtyar assumes charge of planning ministry

ISLAMABAD: Ministry of Planning, led by its newly-elected minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar, has removed Shahid Zia Cheema, a grade 20 officer of economist group, presently working as chief of Public Investment Program (PIP) section, as Cheema raised objections about changes made by the secretary on distribution of official works without approval of the National Economic Council (NEC).

A new controversy, however, emerged when Ali Bat Khan, a grade 21 officer of the Planning Commission working as joint chief economist (operation), refused to relieve Cheema on the pretext that the former had lodged no complaint against the latter and so how he could be removed without taking him into confidence.

Illegal orders issued by the higher authorities may not be implemented by the subordinates as held by the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan in Anita Turab case, Khan said in a statement.

The ministry of planning has also changed Zafar Ul Hassan from the post of Chief Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Project Director (PD) of SDGs on the desire of United Nations Development Program. All three charges of chiefs PIP and SDGs and PD SDGs have been given to Shahid Naeem till further orders.

Cheema complained that a parallel system was in place related to preparation of Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) with allocation of Rs800 billion for the current fiscal and re-appropriation of funding which was being executed by a retired official Asif Sheikh in violation of Rules of Business of 1973 for running Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms (PD&R).

However, the official sources who defended this move argued that the concerned official had challenged the powers of secretary of Planning and Development and he was not authorised to do so.

An official statement said he was directed to report to Establishment Wing of the planning ministry with immediate effect and till further orders. Cheema said the NEC approved distribution of work among different sections of the Planning Commission. The secretary PD&R could not bring any change on his own without approval of the competent forum, he said in a letter. “Such acts would be a clear precedent of excessive / misuse of power and authority.”

Such distribution of work has never been notified by any ex-Secretary PD&R although initiated on the note for which duly rebuttal/point of view of the chief PIP was given.

Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui, secretary of PD&R, was requested to understand the relation between Planning Commission and PD&R Division.

The distribution of work is being invariably referred to a note initiated by Advisor (Development Budget) in November 2016 which was kept in his personal custody for about two years.

“Moreover, I had not agreed to the subject arrangement being contrary to the prescribed rules and approved functions of the Section and was not a signatory to the subject arrangement. I had timely conveyed my concerns through a note to the Secretary PD&R,” Cheema said. The distribution of work was approved by Chief PIP, which is contrary to the factual position.

The Admn Wing is taking actions on the personal whims of Advisor (DB) while knowing half facts of the situation and imposing the un-entitled and illegal authority / influence of a contractual employee over the regular senior officers of the ministry of PD&R.

This is out of understanding as to why this arrangement is being done only in the PIP Section by distancing the Chief PIP and joint chief economist (Ops) from performing the core functions related to PSDP management. This is giving impression of vested interests of Secretary, PD&R, Advisor (DB) and his allied team, best known to them.

For making any project budgeted, recommendation of token supplementary grant by chief PIP Section, the relevant Economic Section of the Planning Commission, is mandatory under the rules as well as proper scrutiny and examination of individual projects for their inclusion in the draft PSDP prior to submission to competent fora for its approval. Keeping distant the Chief PIP and joint chief economist (Ops) and submitting the PSDP to the relevant fora, with 409 new unapproved projects costing Rs2.7 trillion with an allocation of Rs126 billion to oblige outgoing government, may invoke legal implications. Total Rs100 billion announced in the budget speech is not available and there is a short fall in the PSDP of 2018-19.

Asif Sheikh, consultant /advisor of Development Budget is intentionally doing such illegal things to prolong his employment, beyond 70 years of age, although the Prime Minister Office had approved his last extension up to 2011. This would put new government in hot waters.

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