Minister opposes cut in special assistants’ powers

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VIAZafar Bhutta
SOURCEThe Express Tribune
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ISLAMABAD: Minister for Energy Omar Ayub has requested the Cabinet Division that the earlier directives, barring special assistants and advisers to the prime minister from using executive powers, should be withdrawn and special discretionary powers be given to special assistant to PM on petroleum in decision-making and policy formulation.

Under the existing rules of business, the principal dealing officer of the Petroleum Division sends the official files to Ayub. However, the minister can mark any file to Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Petroleum Nadeem Babar. Before becoming the special assistant, Babar, as the Energy Task Force chairman, had visited Qatar along with petroleum secretary in March this year to negotiate an LNG deal despite having no executive powers. This had sparked controversy at the time.

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The cabinet had earlier issued directions, which barred the advisers and special assistants to prime minister from using executive powers in decision making and policy formulation.

Article 93 of the Constitution provides for appointment of advisers to the Prime Minister whereas special assistants to the prime minister are appointed in terms of rule 4(6) of the rules of business, 1973.

Following their appointment, the prime minister entrusts different portfolios and special assignments to the advisers and special assistant, respectively. Furthermore, advisers and special assistants to the prime minister also take part in cabinet meetings on special invitations.

As per the standing instructions of the prime minister, wherever the minister in-charge deemed appropriate, advisers and special assistants to the prime minister may furnish their input on official files to formally contribute to the decision making and policy formulation. This decision has been circulated for information and compliance.

But the energy minister has sent a letter to the cabinet requesting withdrawal of these directives and entrusting executive powers to special assistant. Sources told The Express Tribune that Ayub had told the cabinet that he was a busy minister and had no time to deal with affairs of the Petroleum Division.

Therefore, he said that Nadeem Babar should be given executive powers to deal with officials files. This would mean that the principle dealing officer and petroleum secretary will be directly responsible to the special assistant to prime minister rather than the minister, Ayub, who holds the charge of Petroleum Division and Power Division.

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Officials said that it would not be easy for the cabinet division to give executive powers to special assistant to prime minister as the government would have to amend rules of business. Under the existing rules of business, special assistants and advisers are not authorised to deal with official files and attend cabinet meetings on special invitations only.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2019.

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