Ishaq Dar’s name gains traction for interim PM

finance minister ishaq dar addressing a session of national assembly on april 26 2023 photo twitter naofpakistan

The government was mulling amending the Elections Act 2017 to empower the upcoming caretaker set-up to take decisions beyond its constitutional mandate with a view to ensure continuity of the recently rolled out economic plan and expedite the process aimed at receiving foreign investment in state-owned entities.

Sources in the federal cabinet told The Express Tribune that the PML-N was considering proposing the name of Ishaq Dar for the caretaker prime minister as part of a broader plan to ensure implementation of the economic policies. The final decision about the candidature of Dar will be taken next week in consultation with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) –- one of the two main coalition partners.

The PML-N sources said that the government was considering amending Section 230 of the Elections Act 2017, empowering the caretaker set-up to take economic decisions. They said that the amendments to the elections act might be introduced in the National Assembly next week. The amendments would allow the caretaker government to take decisions necessary to revive economy.

According to Section 230, a caretaker (interim) government shall only perform its functions to attend to day-to-day matters which are necessary to run the affairs of the government. It will assist the Election Commission of Pakistan in holding the general elections in accordance with law and restrict itself to activities that are of routine, non-controversial and urgent nature, in the public interest and can be reversed by a future elected government.

The present law also bars the caretaker government from taking major policy decisions, except on urgent matters. It cannot enter into a major contract or undertaking if it is detrimental to public interest; and it also cannot enter into major international negotiation with any foreign country or international agency; or sign or ratify any international binding instrument, except in an exceptional case.

The sources said that the proposal was to amend both the sub sections of Section 230 that deal with the authority bestowed upon the interim set-up.

Neither Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar nor Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb responded to the requests for comments on the proposed amendments to the elections act.

Recently, the civil and military leadership have unveiled a host of measures to put the economy back on track and replace foreign loans with foreign investment and receipts through the sale of state assets.

In June, the government set up a hybrid civil-military-led Special Investment Facilitation Council. The second meeting of the apex committee of the council was held on Friday that approved candidate projects for offering to Saudi Arabia for investment in the agriculture sector.

Similarly, the outgoing government is in the final stage of establishing the Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund through an act of parliament. The government might table a bill in the National Assembly next week to set up the fund. The draft of the bill has been prepared with the assistance of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).

The sources said that the government may transfer seven companies into the new sovereign wealth fund initially. The net worth of the assets is Rs2.3 trillion.

The government has identified the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL), the Pakistan Petroleum Limited, the National Bank of Pakistan, the Pakistan Development Fund, the Government Holdings Private Limited, the Mari Petroleum Company Limited and the Neelum-Jhelum Hydro Power Company Limited to be listed in the fund.

The UAE has shown interest in the past to acquire stakes in the oil and gas sector companies of Pakistan. There is now a possibility that the government can divest shares of the assets.

The government is in the process of handing over 85% shares of East Wharf at Karachi Port to the Abu Dhabi Ports. It is also pushing the Ministry of Commerce to sign a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Act (CEPA) with the UAE before the end of the term.

Pakistan’s economy is passing through a phase where the matters cannot be left for three months on just day-to-day decision making, a senior cabinet member said on the condition of anonymity.

He added in order to ensure that the IMF programme remains on track and the country completes the second review in November, there was a need that the caretaker government should have more powers to take decisions in economic matters.

In July 2018, the then caretaker government wanted to enter into programme negotiations with the IMF, but the then law minister opposed it on the grounds that the interim set-up did not have such powers.

The sources said that the implementation of all the measures would require continuation of the current economic team. They said that because of this reason the PML-N top leadership wanted Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to be appointed as the caretaker prime minister.

In that case, Tariq Bajwa, special assistant to PM on Finance, may continue working in his present position.

However, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s endorsement was needed for this arrangement. There might also be objections on the political affiliation of Ishaq Dar. If Dar is made the interim PM, he might not return in the next government as finance minister provided the current political dispensation makes a comeback.