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February 28, 2021

Punjab decides to extend tenure of Nepra member

National

February 28, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government that had earlier under the law finalised a panel of three potential candidates for selection by the central government as member Nepra, has now decided’ under pressure from the top mandarins of the federal government’ to give one-year extension to the current member in the regulatory body in violation of the law.

This questionable development came to fore in the latest communication between the provincial energy secretary to Punjab Chief Secretary raising eyebrows, as the extension to the current member for one year is the blatant breach of Nepra Act-2018 under which no one over 60 years can neither be appointed in Nepra as member nor given extension.

Saifullah Chattha is currently the Punjab Member in Nepra and his tenure is set to expire on March 5, 2021. In the past, he was Secretary Water and Power as well as Chief Secretary Balochistan. He is representing Punjab in Nepra since 2017.

According to a summary by Punjab Energy Secretary Muhammad Aamir Jan sent to Punjab Chief Secretary on February 24, 2021, one-year extension for the current Punjab Member in Nepra, Saifullah Chattha has been recommended on grounds of his diverse experience in the power sector as Secretary Power and Member Punjab and more importantly because he is the part of the transition and reforms of the power sector for the last few years.

The official documents and background discussions with officials of both federal and Punjab government suggest that initially the Cabinet Division on February 2, 2021 sent a third reminder to the Punjab Government asking for completion of the process to finalize a panel of three candidates for selection as Punjab member in Nepra by the federal government. When the Punjab government finalized the list of three candidates, suddenly the federal government’s top mandarins including the energy minister, SAPM on petroleum and most influential bureaucrats in PM Secretariat forbid the Punjab government against finalising the panel and instead advocated granting extension to the current Member Punjab in Nepra. Federal Information Minister, Shibli Faraz did not come up with any response even after reading the questions sent by this correspondent. However, the official sources said that the Punjab government first resisted the move, but it ultimately failed to sustain the pressure when it came from ‘powerful circles,’ the official said and added that this has further strengthened the impression that the Punjab government is being run from the Centre.

According to a notification dated February 14, 2017, the federal government had appointed Saifullah Chattha as Member Punjab in Nepra for four years with effect from his date of superannuation i.e. March 3, 2017. Chattha was already 60 years of age at the time of his appointment as Member Punjab. Now he has turned 64 and under Nepra amended Act 2018, he cannot be given the extension. The officials in the Energy department of Punjab feared that the government of Punjab may face severe consequences for initiating the summary against the rules.

According to a federal government officials at the time of Chattha’s appointment as Member Punjab in Nepra in 2017, a case was filed in the court against the ‘illegal’ appointment. The hearing of that case has been fixed for next Monday and if the decision comes against him, Chattha will have to refund all the pay and perks from the date of his appointment.

However, when this scribe asked Saifullah Chattha through a questionnaire regarding the Nepra Act 2018 and the pressure from the energy minister, SAPM on petroleum and most influential bureaucrats in PM Secretariat on Punjab chief sec and Punjab energy minister, Chattha responded by saying in a one liner answer: “Insha Allah, I will retire next week.”

The correspondent also sent a questionnaire to Punjab Energy Minister Dr Akhtar Ali who opted to keep mum. According to official sources in the Punjab government lack of response by the Provincial Energy Minister over his ministry’s recommendation for extension proves something is wrong at the bottom.