SSGCL’s power struggle: Controversy surrounds Dr. Shamshad Akhtar’s extended tenure as chairperson of SSGCL board

ISLAMABAD: The Petroleum Division has sought a legal position on granting a third-time extension to Dr. Shamshad Akhtar (ex-caretaker Finance Minister) as Chairperson of the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) Board.

According to sources, the SSGCL is at the center of a controversy regarding the prolonged and contentious tenure of its Chairperson of the Board of Directors (BoDs), Dr. Shamshad Akhtar.

Initially appointed in March 2019 for a six-month term, Dr. Akhtar’s role has been extended multiple times, with her latest term set to conclude in March 2024. Despite the expiration of her mandated term and the regulations outlined in the State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) Act of 2023, no steps have been taken towards elections or transferring power, leading to mounting concerns about her grip on the chairpersonship. The Petroleum Division has allegedly supported Dr. Shamshad Akhtar’s extensions so far, said sources.

As per the sources, Dr. Akhtar’s first appointment was followed by a consecutive three-year term starting in October 2019. However, despite her second term ending in 2022, she received multiple extensions, extending her tenure to five years by October 2024. This series of extensions directly violates the SOE Act of 2023, which limits an independent member to two consecutive terms unless a three-year period has passed.

Sources also said that during her tenure, Dr. Akhtar simultaneously held the position of caretaker finance minister, raising serious conflict of interest issues as per the SOE Act of 2023. The act disqualifies individuals holding political office from serving as independent directors to ensure impartial governance. Dr. Akhtar’s dual roles compromise her ability to make unbiased decisions, as she oversees both the performance of SSGCL and receives reports through its Central Monitoring Unit. This duality undermines the independence and integrity required for effective governance of state-owned enterprises.

The board of SSGCL has also faced scrutiny, with its tenure expiring in 2021 and subsequent extensions being approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). These extensions, rather than facilitating a smooth power transition, appear to consolidate the chairperson’s and the board’s positions, casting doubt on the government’s commitment to upholding the SOE Act.

Additionally, the incumbent chairperson has deferred the SSGCL board elections since October 2023, reportedly due to dissatisfaction with the previous government’s nominations. This deferral further violates the SOE Act and the Companies Act of 2017, which mandate that independent directors should not hold positions in government-controlled institutions.

The Petroleum Division’s letter dated December 28, 2023, titled “Elections of Board of Directors of SSGC,” underscores the urgency of holding elections, advising against new appointments by the current board. Despite this, the elections initially scheduled for October 23, 2023, have been postponed multiple times, with the latest deferral extending to March 4, 2024.

The ongoing delays and lack of transparency have fueled allegations of political maneuvering and misuse of power. Critics argue that these actions undermine the due process and national interest, emphasizing the need for the government to address these issues promptly to restore accountability and transparency in SSGCL’s management.

As sources reveal, Dr. Akhtar’s tenure, marked by significant conflicts of interest and governance violations, exemplifies the urgent need for reform in the management of state-owned enterprises. The government’s swift action is imperative to ensure adherence to governance laws and to maintain public trust in the administration of key national assets.

It is pertinent to mention that the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) was approached to get its stance on the matter and SECP, in its response, said SECP is not the primary regulator of the SOE Act and the concerned ministry may be contacted for clarification.

Furthermore, the Minister for the Petroleum Division was repeatedly approached for his opinion on the matter, but he, as usual, did not bother to respond.

Ahmad Ahmadani
Ahmad Ahmadani
The author is a an investigative journalist at Profit. He can be reached at [email protected].


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