Tuesday October 19, 2021

Has PTI govt brought promised institutional reforms?

August 24, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Has the Imran-led government brought the promised institutional reforms? Former Adviser to Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain believes the present government has made significant progress in restructuring the ministries and their subsidiary departments.

In July 2021, before resigning from his post as adviser, Dr Ishrat Hussain submitted a progress report on institutional reforms -- a task he was assigned for restructuring the government departments, reducing current expenditures and ensuring austerity measures.

Dr Hussain’s resignation is yet to be approved and notified by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Dr Hussain’s progress report, a copy of which is available with The News, claims that the federal government entities have been reduced from 441 to 307.

According to this report, 206 autonomous bodies, 91 executive departments and 10 constitutional bodies have been notified whereas summaries are to be submitted by the Cabinet Division. Moreover, rules of business have been amended to incorporate new definitions of autonomous bodies and executive departments. In addition to this, the SRO clarifying the powers and functions has also been issued.

The report further claims that appointments of CEOs/MDs of public sector organisations have been conducted through open and merit-based competitive process and 62 CEOs, including some overseas Pakistanis, were appointed through this process.

About the e-governance, the report claims that ministries are using new version of e-office whereas, the electronic submission of summaries for the prime minister, cabinet and committees is under process. For this purpose, hardware has been installed whereas the officials training has also been completed. In order to attract new talent from the private sector, the report claims it has introduced new MP scales policy, which is already notified.

According to this process, recruitment process has been broadened and in addition to advertisements, head hunting firms can identify suitable candidates for short-listing and interviews. Under this policy, civil servants are allowed one MP/SPPS post in their entire career, through open competition. As per the report, 22 posts have been converted into special pay scales so far.

Dr Hussain’s report has also discussed on the delegation of powers given to line ministries/divisions. According to this report, financial adviser's organisation has been abolished, 12 subordinate offices of AGPR have been established in different ministries whereas 24 CFAOs have been appointed.

Under the reforms section, the report carries recommendations for major loss-making entities, including Pakistan Railways, Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Steel Mills. For Pakistan Railways, the restructuring plan of the report suggests to make the loss-making body efficient by converting its divisions into four companies i.e. (a) Infrastructure company wholly owned by the government, (b) Freight company to be operated by the private sector (c) Passenger company to be operated by the private sector (d) ML-1 Authority for implementing the $6 billion CPEC project.

The report further says that a Railway Regulatory Agency independent of the Railway Board would be formed. It further claims that so far four freight and six passenger trains have been outsourced, Karachi Circular Railway was restarted after 20 years, ML-1 plan was approved whereas, land management function has been separated from operations.

Moreover, a comprehensive restructuring plan to make PIA a financially-viable organisation and reduce its dependence on government loans and guarantees has been approved by the ECC. The report claims that an international firm IATA consultancy has endorsed the recommendations of restructuring plan. It was because of this plan thousands of PIA employees opted for Voluntary Separation Scheme.

For the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the report claims a comprehensive reforms agenda to restructure tax collecting body mainly focuses on three areas i.e. (a) End to end automation (b) Functional and organisation restructuring (c) Improved human resource management. According to the report, the main objective of the FBR reforms was to reduce the burden of the withholding tax regime, harmonise tax collection across the federal government and the provinces and to introduce automation to minimise the contact between the taxpayer and tax collector. The report further says that the tariff determination has been taken away from the FBR and entrusted to the National Tariff Commission. The report claims that tax refunds of Rs250 billion made through the automated system.

About the Pakistan Steel Mills, the report says, transaction structure to transfer operating assets to a subsidiary company to revive and operate the Mill has been approved whereas the Voluntary Separation Scheme has also been implemented. It further claims that Expression of Interest (EOI) to be issued shortly.

For the restructuring of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), a report was presented and approved by the federal cabinet. Similarly, the governance of CDA has been strengthened with the inclusion of four independent leading architects, town planner, educationist as members of the board. The report claims that new sub-sections are being developed and infrastructure projects revived.

Moreover, the AGP is being strengthened by transforming it into a modern and professional organisation from the present transaction-based audit to thematic and sectoral audit to maximise the value of public money. New law and reform plan has been approved by the cabinet, the report says.

The report has also mentioned the reforms introduced in the Competition Commission of Pakistan. The main hurdle according to the progress report in the effectiveness of CCP was a longstanding litigation challenging the validity of the organization. This case has now been disposed off and the CCP has been reconstituted with eminent experts as members and has taken up activities against cartels and collusive business practices. The Lahore High Court has vacated the long standing stay and financial autonomy of the CCP has been restored and it is now active, the report claims.

Furthermore, a computerised database with geotagging has been developed to maintain an updated inventory of all the plots, buildings and properties belonging to the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). According to the report, the properties would be utilised for constructing hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, schools, colleges and welfare projects. Similarly, the excessive concentration of powers in the hands of the chairman has been diluted by separating the positions of the Chairman and the Chief Executive.

The board and the chairman would oversee and supervise while the Chief Executive would be responsible for managing the organisation. The report further claims that encroachments on the properties belonging to the ETPB area being gradually removed, new lease agreements being negotiated and earnings of the ETPB have increased.

For the Civil Aviation Authority, the report says it is being divided into two organisations – one that would be responsible for the regulatory oversight and enforcement of the aviation industry standards, safety, licensing, etc, while the other would manage, develop and operate the commercial operations of the airports. The private sector would be encouraged to enter into concession agreements. The federal cabinet has approved the ordinance, claims the report.