Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on power and petroleum Tabish Gauhar once again resigned from his post which the Prime Minister this time readily accepted it. Earlier, SAPM on petroleum Nadeem Babar and SAPM on power Shahzad Qasim SAPM were shown the door. They all had three things in common: they are professionals of proven track record; all the three failed to reconcile with their roles limited to advisory services and all three perceived themselves as hands-on fixers of the ills in the energy sector with an effective say in implementation and policymaking - which prompted them to trespass on others’ domains.
The recent ruling of Islamabad High Court in relation to the role of SAPMs, State Executive Cadre and Policy Makers is quite explicit. It, for example, states: “On all executive matters the secretary of the Ministry and officials subordinate to him have a pivotal and exclusive role and that an adviser has no role either in policy matters of a division or ministry nor its execution nor in running the business of the federal government in terms of the rules and that an adviser is not a member or part of the federal cabinet nor entitled to attend its meetings, except when the prime minister requires his/her attendance and, that too, by special invitation as has been provided in the rules”. The judgement further states: “An adviser cannot interfere in or in any manner influence the executive authority, working or functioning of a division/ministry nor its policy matters”. By virtue of this IHC ruling, the SAPMs and Advisers are expected to enrich the policy making process of the state through their professional skills while keeping themselves at arm’s length insofar as the executive functions of the state are concerned.
Tabish Gauhar’s high-profile interviews and his opinions on matters such as the KE-Shanghai purchase deal, IPP payoff issues, Russian Gas pipeline contract in print and broadcast media did not conform to his advisory role.
Somewhat similar was the modus operandi of Nadeem Baber who had become entangled with petrol shortage issue and subsequent controversies, including LNG procurement. Lately, Dr Waqar Masood, the SAPM on Finance and Revenue, quit the government on account of his differences with Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin on key financial policy matters of the Ministry. A little earlier, Major General Asif Bajwa, SAPM on CPEC, left his position expressing frustration that he could not deliver on account of multiple bureaucratic hurdles.
Some notable exceptions are Abdul Razak Dawood, advisor to PM on Commerce and Investment with the rank of a Federal Minister and Dr Sania Nishter, SAPM on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety with the status of a Federal Minister.
Razak Dawood has a free hand from the prime minister while Dr Sania Nishter too has complete freedom to do what she wants or chooses. This leaves little space for bureaucracy to play around.
Prime Minister’s Adviser on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, Dr Ishrat Husain, being a seasoned and well accomplished bureaucrat, economist and educationist well understood the roles and limitations of the SAPMs and Advisers to PM. Contented with his role, he worked for three years, showing little or no concern about the implementation status of his reforms. On the eve of his departure, he made public the reforms designed by him and approved by the cabinet which include reorganization of the Federal Government and restructuring of top 10 loss-making State Owned Enterprises such as PIA, Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills and key institutions of governance such as Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and a transparent selection process for appointment of CEOs/MDs of Public Sector Organisations. It is heartening to note that a body, Cabinet Committee on Institutional Reforms (CCIR), has been established to review and monitor the implementation of these proposed reforms.
The bottom line is that in the prevailing state governance structure, the bureaucracy will continue to call the shots.
That each one of the 16-member team of SAPMs and advisers to the PM is a mere provider of professional advice on matters in which his or her services are solicited is fact. This is not a model of state governance which could move the nation forward in leaps.
(The writer is a Former President, Overseas Investors Chambers of Commerce and Industry)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021