The federal government has proposed to give more administrative, financial and punitive powers to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority
A draft prepared by the government in this regard also lays out the role of the prime minister in the authority’s affairs.
Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr Jehanzeb Khan on Monday held the first meeting of all government stakeholders to review the proposed CPEC Authority Bill 2020.
They said the Foreign Office representative raised the issue of implications of the changes for the CPEC framework agreement, signed between the two countries over five years back.
But the changes have been proposed to make the CPEC Authority more effective in execution of the multibillion-dollar projects.
In a major change, it has been proposed to remove minister for planning, development and reform as co-chairman of the Joint Cooperation Committee of the CPEC - the strategic body responsible for decision-making of the CPEC.
Instead of the planning minister, the CPEC Authority chairman will be the co-chair of the JCC along with the vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China.
The sources said the meeting participants suggested that Pakistan needed to take China into confidence first before making such a big change.
It has also been proposed to appoint a chief of staff of the CPEC Authority, who will assist the CPEC Authority chairman - a concept that is alien in the civilian set-up.
The CPEC Authority Bill 2020 proposes to eliminate the role of the planning ministry as an administrative division and the authority is proposed to be placed directly under the supervision of the prime minister.
As against its existing role of coordination, the government has proposed to give powers of conceiving, planning and execution of CPEC to the authority, showed the draft bill seen by The Express Tribune.
The prime minister’s powers will only be limited to the ones defined in the CPEC bill.
In case a public office holder does not cooperate with the CPEC Authority, the chairman will have the power to order an investigation against the public office holder, according to the draft bill.
The CPEC Authority, set up over nine months back, hangs in the air after the CPEC Authority Ordinance 2019 lapsed about one and a half months ago.
The chief executive officer who attended the meeting on Monday did not respond to the request for comments. The Planning Commission deputy chairman also did not respond to the request for a comment.
The government has proposed eight new sections in the CPEC Bill as compared to 23 total sections of the CPEC Ordinance 2019.
The authority shall carry out its functions, in accordance with the provisions of this act under the direct supervision of the prime minister, according to the proposed draft.
Currently, the CPEC Authority chairman is answerable to the planning minister and the authority works under the Planning, Development and Reform Division under the Rules of Business 1973. But this has been omitted in the proposed bill.
“The authority shall be under an obligation to comply with the directives and policy guidelines issued by the prime minister, to the extent that these are not inconsistent with the provisions of this act,” according to another proposal that limits the role of the premier in the authority’s affairs.
A new post of chief of staff is being proposed in the bill and the position of CEO is proposed to be abolished. Currently, the CEO is a Grade-20 officer from the bureaucracy. The two positions of executive directors are proposed to be abolished.
The planning minister is proposed to be removed as co-chair of the JCC and CPEC Authority chairman will be the co-chair of the JCC.
"The 'Joint Cooperation Committee' means that the committee [is] jointly headed by the chairperson of the authority and the vice chairperson of the National Development and Reforms Commission of the People’s Republic of China,” reads the proposed bill.
As against the lapsed law that allowed to set up a head office of the authority in Islamabad, the government has now proposed that the authority may establish regional and local offices, as deemed appropriate throughout Pakistan.
But the sources said that the provincial representative objected to this and said that they would not like to see a parallel set-up in the provinces.
Currently, the authority consists of the chairperson, chief executive officer, executive director (operations), executive director research and six members. It has now been proposed that the authority shall consist of the chairperson, chief of staff and six members. The chairperson is proposed to be the convener and head of the authority.
It is proposed that “an officer of the authority, so nominated by it, shall act as secretary to the authority. The secretary shall be the custodian of the common seal of the authority”. Currently, a Grade-20 officer is the CEO.
In a major change, the powers of hiring people have been vested with the authority instead of the ministry. “The authority may, whenever deem appropriate, employ officers, staff experts, consultants, advisers, public servants, or other employees, on such terms and conditions as may be determined by the authority, from time to time.”
The PM will appoint the chairman for four years, and the period can be extended for four more years. The members will be appointed for three years.
Powers and functions
At present, the authority is responsible for coordination, monitoring and evaluation to ensure implementation of CPEC-related activities.
“The authority shall be responsible for conceiving, implementing, expanding, enforcing, controlling, regulating, coordinating, monitoring, evaluating and carrying out all activities related to the CPEC,” according to the proposed bill.
What appears to be sweeping punitive powers, the government has proposed that “the authority shall issue directions, instructions, or specified orders to a holder of public office, or any other person who may be directly or indirectly engaged or associated with the CPEC-related activities”.
The authority shall “impose penalties, or refer investigation(s) and inquiries to concerned agencies, against such persons, including public office holders, who willfully defy the directions, instructions, or specified orders of the authority”.
It has also expanded the scope of channels that will contribute to the CPEC Fund that will be at the disposal of the authority, which include "fees, charges, levies, rentals and fines collected by the authority, funds from floating bonds, shares, debentures, certificates or other securities issued by the authority".
The statement of objects and reasons does not have a name of the signatory, unlike the lapsed ordinance when the statement had been given by the minister for planning, development and reform.
The sources said that the final bill may be different from the proposed bill, as the stakeholders have proposed to omit all those clauses that are not in sync with the Rules of Business 1973 of the federal government