In a major development, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has stripped Ministry of Planning, Development & Reforms of its function as the focal ministry in the implementation of the $ 57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
As per a notification issued by the Cabinet Division, the prime minister would chair an eleven-member Cabinet Committee on CPEC sanctioned to take all decisions on planning and execution of the strategically important project.
The new terms of reference (ToRs) of the new cabinet committee on the CPEC say that the new body will periodically review the implementation of CPEC projects besides also being responsible for the resolution of inter-ministerial issues arising during implementation of CPEC.
The cabinet committee will also be responsible for the formulation of the JCC agenda. The new body will also be responsible for implementation of Long-term Plan (2017-2030) of CPEC – a task previously performed by planning ministry.
Under the notification, the Planning Commission has been stripped of all powers as the focal ministry for CPEC implementation. The decision might prove to be a setback for the implementation of the CPEC but also would leave the fate of many institutions working to ensure effective implementation of the CPEC in jeopardy.
The notification has no word on the fate of CPEC support project established at the Planning Commission which was coordinating with sixteen ministries and autonomous bodies to ensure effective implementation of the CPEC projects.
The new institutional arrangement has also left several questions on the fate of the Centre of Excellence for CPEC which has consumed Rs 1.2 billion from the national kitty which is still housed at the planning commission.
It merits mention that Planning Commission is a sister organisation of the National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC) of China which is the CPEC implementation authority in Beijing.
Due to the sacking of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office in a Panama Papers Case, the bi-annual meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) has already been postponed which was due in July this year.
The JCC which is CPEC’s principal policymaking body used to be co-chaired by former Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal and the chairman of China’s National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC). However, the new arrangement may create some functional issues between the two governments which may hamper the implementation process on CPEC.
The decision has been taken soon after the appointment of veteran economist Sartaj Aziz as deputy chairman of Planning Commission with the status of a federal minister.
Sources in the planning commission say that the notification has left everyone shocked at the ministry as in principle, the planning commission houses the main secretariat for the CPEC. More surprisingly, Sartaj Aziz, the deputy chairman of Planning Commission, has been removed from CPEC implementation despite the fact that he is not only a veteran of planning commission but also has expertise in economic issues. Aziz holds the status of a federal minister as deputy chairman Planning Commission.
However, Planning Commission secretary has been given a role in the new committee, perhaps as every project has to be approved by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) which is an administrative arm of the Planning Commission.
Under the new arrangement, the Cabinet Division may overtake the role of Planning Commission as it would serve as the secretariat of the committee.
Other members of the cabinet committee on the CPEC include Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif, Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique, Ports and Shipping Minister Hasil Bizenjo, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Economic Affairs Dr Miftah Ismail, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Fawad Hassan Fawad, the Federal Board of Revenue chairman, and the Planning and Cabinet divisions’ secretaries.