Sartaj Aziz’s resignation from Planning Commission creates leadership vacuum

ISLAMABAD: Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz has submitted his resignation, which may create a leadership vacuum in the organisation and could make bureaucrats more powerful.
Aziz, who had been appointed as deputy chairman by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in August last year, was among four political appointees of the previous PML-N government. Three of them have resigned from their positions while Marvi Memon, chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Program, was removed after she refused to submit her resignation.
Earlier, Naeem Zamindar, chairman of the Board of Investment, and Nasser Khan Janjua, the national security advisor, had also tendered their resignations.
There was no reason to continue after the end of the PML-N tenure, said Aziz while confirming the development.
The competent authority has been pleased to accept the resignation tendered by Aziz from the post of deputy chairman with effect from June 1, 2018, according to a notification issued by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform.
Aziz stopped attending office after the PML-N government completed its five-year tenure on May 31. During his ten-month short-term, he tried to improve working of the Planning Commission. Aziz had been given the status of a federal minister.
He played an important role in formulation of the country’s first national water policy that was subsequently approved by the Council of Common Interests – the highest constitutional body on issues dealing with centre and the federating units.
After the exit of Planning Commission deputy chairman and Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the planning ministry has taken some decisions, arguably against the rules.
The planning ministry has now made a questionable move. It has given the look-after charge of Member Private Sector Development and Competitiveness of the Planning Commission to a joint secretary level officer.
The powers to appoint a member and to give even look-after charge rest with the deputy chairman Planning Commission and the chairman of the commission who happens to be prime minister.
Dr Syed Akhtar Hussain Shah, a BS-20 officer of the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, currently working as joint secretary Ministry of Planning, “is assigned to look after the work of Member Private Sector Development”, according to a June 21 notification of the planning ministry.
The notification further reads that the look after charge has been given “with the approval of the secretary Ministry of Planning”.
The post of the member Planning Commission is of Management Position Scale I (MP-I). The MP-I is equivalent to grade-22 for administrative purposes. The planning secretary himself is a grade-22 officer and cannot assign the grade-22 position to anyone, according to sources in the planning ministry and the Establishment Division. Moreover, the status of the planning secretary is equal to any other member of the commission. The planning secretary is Member Coordination of the Commission.

Ministry defends the move

Planning Commission spokesman Asim Niazi defended the decision to appoint a junior officer as member Planning Commission. All the matters in the commission are dealt in accordance with the rules, said Niazi. He said that the purpose of giving the look-after charge to Shah is to ensure smooth functioning of the commission. Niazi said that Shah would exercise all powers on behalf of and in consultation with the planning secretary.
To a question, the spokesman said that in absence of deputy chairman, the planning secretary would be looking after all the administrative affairs of the commission.
The appointments against important positions have remained a thorny issue in the ministry during the past few years.