ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday told a parliamentary panel that there was no chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority at present as members of the National Assembly had challenged the legal status of the defunct agency and the functioning of its top management.
After interesting discussions and a brief break to allow senior officials of the Ministry of Planning and Development to seek clarifications, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Planning, Development and Special Initiatives deferred “The China Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2020” to its next meeting.
As discussion started on the bill during a meeting of the standing committee, MNA Syed Agha Rafiullah inquired as to who was chairman of the CPEC Authority. “No one,” responded Planning and Development Secretary Mathar Niaz Rana.
“Then under what law the incumbent is working,” the lawmaker asked.
The secretary said he was just coordinating as the CPEC Ordinance had lapsed on May 31, 2020.
Lawmakers question legal status, functioning of the authority after expiry of its ordinance
When the ordinance had lapsed months ago, under what law they were still working, Mr Rafiullah wondered. “Are we dummies? What kind of law making are we doing?” he asked.
MNA Imran Khattak asked the planning ministry’s officials to let the committee know who was currently chairman of the CPEC Authority. The response was again in the negative.
When MNA Naveed Dero asked the officials to clearly state as to who was the chairman of the authority at present, the official response remained unchanged.
Mr Rafiullah then demanded that the planning ministry issue a written clarification that there was no chairman of the CPEC Authority and also explain how it was functioning when the ordinance had lapsed.
Committee chairman Junaid Akbar asked if there was no chairman of the CPEC Authority at present, what was the status of the incumbent and was he drawing perks and privileges?
Many committee members also asked if any memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been signed on behalf of the CPEC Authority after its ordinance lapsed in May this year?
At this, the committee chairman said he would stop proceedings for five minutes and asked the planning and development secretary to seek guidance from the government for a clear-cut position.
Secretary Mathar Rana returned after a while and reported that Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar could not be reached as he was attending a cabinet meeting, but officers of the CPEC Authority had confirmed that neither any MoU had been signed nor the incumbent enjoyed perks after the expiry of the ordinance.
This did not satisfy the committee which desired that a clear-cut and written explanation should be issued and put on record.
The secretary assured the committee that he would take up the matter with the minister and informed him about the panel’s directives.
During the course of discussions, Secretary Rana told the committee that the post of chief executive officer of the CPEC Authority was being abolished under the proposed bill and the chairman will lead the CPEC.
In the proposed bill, the chairman will be appointed by and report to the prime minister through the division concerned, he said.
In response to questions, the panel was told that indemnity to actions taken in good faith by the CPEC Authority’s top management was in line with similar provisions of other authorities, but the members had reservations over the elastic definition of ‘good faith’.
The planning secretary said that on the instructions of the committee he had talked to the CPEC officers and reported their response in “good faith”.
It was pointed out that the earlier ordinance on the same subject was withdrawn by the government; hence, the instant bill was introduced.
The National Assembly in a written statement said the committee asked under what law the authority was performing its functions when the ordinance was withdrawn and no more in field.
The planning and development secretary assured the committee of briefing it in the next meeting on what capacity and under what law the CPEC Authority chairman was performing his functions.
The members requested for some time to study the bill and deliberate on it. The committee unanimously decided to defer the bill till its next meeting.
The meeting was attended by Sher Akbar Khan, Saleh Muhammad, Syed Faiz-ul-Hassan, Nawab Sher, Sardar Nasrullah Khan Dreshak, Imran Khattak, Muhammad Sajjad, Muhammad Junaid Anwar Chaudhry, Sardar Muhammad Irfan Dogar, Naveed Dero, Syed Agha Rafiullah and Abdul Shakoor.
Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2020