Senate body demands replacing Dar

Samina Nazli

ISLAMABAD: Following frequent vibes from diverse quarters, members to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday demanded new Finance Minister to replace Ishaq Dar, who is facing an accountability court case.
Apart from calls from the opposition parties demanding Dar's resignation, Asian Development Bank also pointed out in its recent report that a "possible loss of momentum in policy decision making may hamper growth prospects."
Above all Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed concerns on the other day by saying that Pakistan needed to expand tax base, bring in financial discipline and ensure continuity of policies to be able to break the begging bowl.
During Thursday's meeting members to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance were upset due to non-availability of Finance Minister Dar even to the upper house committee.
Committee Chairman Senator Saleem Mandviwala was of the view that the office of the Finance Minister was not functional (for Dar's preoccupation with National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references filled against him under the Supreme Court decision in Panama case).
MQM Senator Nasreen Jalil was of the view that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi should appoint a new Finance Minister in place of Senator Dar. 
"Federal Board of Revenue officials say they cannot issue a paper slip without approval of Finance Minister Dar, let alone approval to the release of refunds," she observed during the meeting and afterwards reiterated the same while talking to the media. "Even the army chief has expressed concerns on the economy now," she added.
The Senators belonging to the opposition parties including Chair Saleem Mandviwala strongly felt the need to pass recommendations or at a least resolution against the bizarre situation of the sitting Finance Minister accused and indicted by a NAB court.
However Senator Saud Majeed of the ruling party defended the government by saying that the Finance Minister's office was fully functional and it was Dar who realized an economic turnaround in Pakistan. "We should not intervene into the affairs of the government, which has the prerogative to keep any one as Finance Minister," he added.
Finally, the Committee unanimously agreed on summoning Finance Minister Dar in its next meeting and wanted him to personally appear and briefed the committee on critical issues such as actual state of the economy, circular debt payments to the tune of Rs 480 billion, status of the World Bank's lending. Thus, Dar's mandatory attendance to the next meeting was made part of the Senate body's upcoming agenda.  
Apart from the Finance Ministry, the Water and Power Ministry official were also unable to answer the questions by the Senators regarding the payments of Rs 32 billion to the power sector. Annoyed Senators remarked "why not a privilege motion be moved against the Water and Power Ministry?"
Earlier, Finance Ministry officials informed the committee that World Bank had neither suspended its loans to Pakistan, nor had it put on hold any future program. The Committee Chairman still demanded the Finance Minister himself to get an assurance from the World Bank if the ministry officials would claim a statement in this regard was wrongly attributed to the Bank.
Petroleum Ministry officials informed the committee that settlement of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) with the CNG sector a summary had already been sent to the Cabinet Division on October 6 and hopefully, it would be sent back within the current month.
The committee also decided to call the Minister of Water and Power and Secretary of the committee to brief on the reply it had submitted on the report of a Standing Committee on Finance, adopted by the house on the issue of payments made to clear the circular debt of power sector amounting to Rs480 billion during 2013. "After having briefing from the Minister or the Secretary, we shall decide whether the case be sent to the NAB or the FIA (Federal Investigation Agency).