Pakistan News

Minister joins opposition in criticising financial institutions

Minister joins opposition in criticising financial institutions

ISLAMABAD: Members of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance – including a cabinet minister – on Tuesday criticised government functionaries, while a majority of members decided to lodge a complaint against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar for not attending committee meetings.

However, Privatisation Minister Daniyal Aziz’s outburst against his own government fizzled out when it was pointed out that he had been removed from the committee on the orders of Mr Dar.

The parliamentary committee also saw bipartisan criticism of both the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) for not fulfilling their responsibilities with regard to various corruption scandals.

Following diatribe, Daniyal Aziz was told he has been removed from NA body on finance minister’s orders

Mr Aziz spoke harshly against the FBR for failing to move ahead in its probe of the around 400 individuals accused of corruption in the Panama Papers scandal.

“Now that another international issue – Paradise Leaks – has cropped up, FBR and SECP need to inform us about the progress of their probe as well. In addition, the corporate sector regulator had concealed the reports of the insider trading scandal [involving Jahangir Tareen], which is not fair,” he said.

He was supported by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Asad Umar and Abdul Rashid Godil of the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM). During the course of the discussion, Mr Godil invited the attention of committee chairman Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh to the continuous absence of the finance minister, finance secretary and FBR chairman from committee proceedings.

“When the key players are not present, what are we discussing here,” Mr Godil asked.

“I agree, there is no use for this parliamentary forum if the finance minister and his ministry’s top officers do not even bother to attend committee meetings,” Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh said, adding that he would rather resign as chairman.

Continuing his diatribe against the revenue board, Daniyal Aziz argued that the Supreme Court’s decision against Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Papers case had upended accounting procedures, adding that the FBR should be prepared to modify their accounting rules as per the decision of the apex court.

As discussion continued, it was pointed out that Mr Aziz’s name was not on the list of members circulated with the meeting agenda. At this, the committee secretary informed members that Mr Aziz was no longer a member of the standing committee on finance.

Initially, the minister contested that impression, saying he was a member. However, it was eventually revealed that he had been replaced on the orders of the finance minister.

State Bank amendment

The committee faced several irritants, especially when officials of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) sought the approval of ‘The State Bank of Pakistan Banking Service Corporation (amendment) Bill 2017’ without it being considering by the committee.

SBP officials told members the amendment had already been cleared by top officials of the finance ministry, but this invited the ire of several members.“So it is clear and ok? Then why are you wasting your time here in this committee,” Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh asked the officers.

Eventually, it was decided that SBP would table the amendment, along with a comparison with the existing law, at the next meeting.

“The problem is you people think that we MNAs do not understand the laws and their repercussions – perhaps we cannot even read them, but do bring it properly next time,” the committee chairman warned.

The committee was also briefed by former bureaucrats and leading businesspersons, who painted a bleak picture of the economy.

The economic experts suggested that the government take appropriate measures to reduce the tax gap, facilitate ease of doing business and offer incentives to exporters to reduce trade deficit, as well as extending facilities to civil servants to improve their working and remove business irritants and ensure the implementation of ‘One-Window operations’ to attract new businesses and investors.

Former commerce secretary Saeed Ahmad Qureshi and former FBR chief Abdullah Yousuf stressed the consistency of policy and suggested that the implementation of legislation must be monitored and subjected to economic analysis and research.

Eminent businesspersons Shabbir Ahmed and Mian Sohail Hussain, meanwhile, said that government policies should focus on removing business irritants to allow the expansion of existing businesses and to attract new businesses.

The committee also called on SBP to provide details of various economic indicators, such as the increase in debt and liabilities from 2016 to 2017; the decline in SBP reserves from 2016 to 2017; a forecast for reserves, debts and liabilities for 2018 and mitigation plans for averting an external account crisis.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2017

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