FINANCE is such silly gold.
Ask Asad Umar. He kissed her with all his heart and was turned away for it. Ask Hafeez Sheikh. He sculpted it with his experienced hands and was banished for it. Ask Hammad Azhar. He rocked him for barely 24 hours and he was reprimanded for it. There is something about Q Block that doesn’t agree with good men (and women).
Hammad Azhar is one of the reducing features of PTI. Young, articulate, capable, eligible and loyal, what else could Imran Khan want in a team member? Armed with a strong political lineage and elite degrees, Hammad has performed well in the performance of government being a subjective matter nowadays and has won praise from his leader.
The suddenness with which Hafeez Sheikh was expelled from the office of finance ministers and the manner in which that expulsion came as a stark shock to most. What came as no brutal shock, however, was the Prime Minister’s decision to replace Sheikh with Hammad. It was a bold move, but not surprising.
The Minister of Finance did not deserve this confusion on the first day of his new post.
On his first day as arguably the most important minister in the federal government, Hammad chaired the meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee. Among the long and comprehensive program was the issue of importing sugar and cotton from India. The summary was proposed by the Ministry of Commerce and approved by the Prime Minister as he also holds the portfolio of the Minister of Commerce. The summary made economic sense. Importing these items from India would have meant that the Pakistanis would have them at lower prices.
Read: What makes a minister?
The ECC has decided to give the green light for the importation of sugar and cotton from India. The new finance minister gave a press conference and made the announcement. It made international news. There was, however, a problem. The decisions of the ECC call them recommendations must be approved by the federal cabinet. This particular ruling implied an exemption from the ban on trade with India. Only the cabinet can authorize such an exemption.
It was not the decision of the Hammads. But as president of the ECC, he became the face of this decision. When the announcement made waves, some cabinet members tweeted that only the cabinet could make the call and not the ECC. What prompted such clarification? Is this the force that the ECC announcement generated in the news media? Was it a realization that the announcement was being misinterpreted as a decision by the Pakistani government? Hammad didn’t deserve this confusion from day one of his new job.
The Ministry of Commerce had been working on this proposal to import sugar and cotton from India for some time. The summary must have been the result of certain approvals by higher authorities. Then, the summary would have been forwarded to the Prime Minister’s office where the officials concerned would have combed it for any problems. However, in this case, it is not necessary for the Prime Minister to have actually read and signed the summary because, according to a Cabinet minister, many approvals are part of the routine procedures that staff in the Prime Minister’s Office deal with him. -even.
So what’s wrong? It was a busy day on the ECC’s agenda and the new Minister of Finance was moving quickly from point to point. When the summary of the import from India was presented, Hammad was smart enough to ask how this could be approved without the go-ahead from the higher quarters. At this point, a senior minister present at the meeting raised a valid point. He said the ECC was not the right forum for this decision and that it needed to be approved at the strategic level. Another counselor agreed with this point. However, the relevant adviser replied that the prime minister had already approved it. The new finance minister had no choice but to give the green light because he had no reason not to believe the relevant adviser in the Prime Minister’s approval.
It turns out the situation was a little different. The consultation necessary for such a strategic decision had not been made. The official explanation given now is that the ECC is an economic body and therefore did not need to look at the strategic aspect as long as the economic aspect made sense, which it did. However, there was general agreement that the proper thing would have been not to take the matter to the JCE until there had been a strategic consensus on the matter. The Commerce Department failed to exercise due diligence. Hammad was unnecessarily left holding the baby.
A day after this preventable fiasco at the ECC and the fierce cabinet meeting the next day in which the Home and Foreign Ministers chewed up the ECC for the announcement, the TV screens turned crimson with the news that the government was considering appointing former finance minister Shaukat. Tarin as financial advisor or finance minister after having him elected to the Senate. Throughout the day the news was not denied and later Tarin himself admitted that he had been approached by the government.
Could there be anything worse than a new finance minister learning on the second day of his job that he can have the company of a guard? It made terrible optics. Hammad didn’t deserve this. A cabinet minister was absolutely right when he said to the right people in government: Let Hammad make his decisions, don’t question him now that you’ve made him responsible.
Being Hammad Azhar has not been easy this week. Now that the Prime Minister has made the bold decision to hand over this enormous responsibility to him, he must fully stand behind him.
The writer is editor-in-chief of Dawns in Islamabad.
Posted in Dawn on April 3, 2021
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