PML-N leaders blame crisis on Sharifs’ misplaced trust

Source: Published in Current Affairs on Monday, January 19, 2015

ISLAMABAD: It is no secret that the Sharif brothers prefer their bureaucrats over politicians and are known for their tendency to keep key government positions “in the family”. This has also proven to be their undoing as a crippling fuel shortage has all but paralysed their citadel, Punjab, senior PML-N office-bearers told Dawn.

Some leaders, who have been quite close to both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif over the years, said that throughout the 90s and even now, the brothers have always preferred government officials and family members over party colleagues, something which has done them more harm than good. As is evident from recent events, it seems that they have not learnt their lesson yet.

“Even some of the ministers, who look all-powerful to the public, have nothing in their hands and need clearance from the PM’s Office just to change their personal staff. Moreover, Senator Ishaq Dar’s omnipresence as the de facto prime minister and his tight control over nearly all ministries irks everyone in the government,” a PML-N lawmaker said.

“If somebody has to be asked to explain the long queues on petrol pumps, it’s Ishaq Dar,” the party member said.

This is not the first time that their approach to running the government has caused embarrassment to both the PM and the Punjab CM.

Only last week, on the eve of the PM’s meeting with leaders of the business community, a couple of Karachi-based businessmen complained to him about the Private Power & Infrastructure Board (PPIB) and accused the Ministry of Water and Power of not facilitating them in setting up new power plants.

On hearing this, according to senior members of the water and power ministry and PPIB, the PM flew into rage and immediately sought clarifications from the officials present. When the officials tried to present their point of view, a visibly perturbed PM expressed his frustration, saying, “I really don’t know who you people work for.”

A senior official of the water and power ministry told Dawn that since financing on investment in the power sector was available at very soft terms thanks to the Chinese government, “The PPIB and power ministry have been under tremendous pressure from all sides for ‘facilitation’.”

There is more than one centre of power, therefore, “We have to be very careful before finalising such applications.”

Another irritated senior government official said that every policy decision, no matter which ministry was involved, was conveyed separately to the PM, Ishaq Dar and the Punjab CM to get their input. That’s how the government is being run, he added.

Just the power ministry – which has Khawaja Asif as federal minister and Abid Sher Ali as state minister – is also bound by the directions of both Sharif brothers, as well as their handpicked advisers who look after energy issues.

Another example of how heavily the two men bank on their trusted bureaucrats was reported earlier this month, on the eve of appointment of a new Punjab chief secretary.

To the utter shock of the ever-vigilant Shahbaz Sharif, a new chief secretary had been appointed without his mandatory approval.

It was later discovered that top bureaucrats from the centre and Punjab had agreed on one name, that of Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad, and notified his appointment without even asking the junior Sharif brother.

On learning of the appointment of a new chief secretary without his approval, the furious chief minister immediately banished his provincial services secretary, Mohyuddin Wani to the OSD-pit. Then, Khizer Hayat Gondal was brought in as the new provincial chief secretary amid much drama.

Commenting on the suspension of top petroleum ministry officials over the current oil crisis, another incumbent PML-N lawmaker said that this would not have happened if there were not so many overlapping centres of power. “If ensuring the uninterrupted supply of oil to the country was the sole responsibility of Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, he would have managed it or otherwise the PM wouldn’t have taken so much time in removing him from the ministry considering the magnitude of crisis.” By suspending a few officials, the PM is just ignoring the real issue.

Since the current problem revolves around payments to and by Pakistan State Oil, which is entirely the finance minister’s responsibility, we shall have to wait and see whether the PM will be able to act against the powerful minister.

The government micromanagement of departmental affairs also frustrated two stalwarts, Enver Baig and Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi, who quit their posts over the extent of interference in their affairs. Mr Baig headed the Benazir Income Support Programme, while Mr Jatoi was the minister for industries and production.

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Written by Khawar Ghumman

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