The historic decision of the Supreme Court maintaining curbs on the prime minister’s discretionary powers to unilaterally approve legislative, financial and fiscal bills without consulting the cabinet has made the future of more than half a dozen cabinet committees bleak.
These committees were being utilised to make decisions without consulting the whole cabinet as it could have aroused certain controversies. However, an official source said the government was yet to decide whether to continue with the committees or find some other way.
The apex court had, in its judgement, held that the prime minister could not take decisions by himself or by supplanting or ignoring the cabinet because the power to take decisions was vested with the federal government ie, the cabinet. It ruled that unilateral decisions taken by the prime minister would be taken as usurpation of power.
The Supreme Court had given judgement on the matter on August 18 which was subsequently challenged by the government. But during this period, the government kept on taking approval from the cabinet for all the decisions of the sub-committees of the cabinet, mainly the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC).
An official source said that after the court’s ruling, the most affected committees would be the ECC and Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCOP). These two committees are the most powerful ones, since the cabinet scarcely discusses any of their decisions.
The official said if the economic and privatisation issues were discussed by the cabinet, then the decision-making would be difficult, expressing apprehension that the ministers would raise social and political issues. He said the cabinet committees were formed to include only relevant ministers to avoid any controversies.
The ECC, the source said, was especially established in 1965 by General Ayub Khan under the finance minister to finalise economic matters on an urgent basis. The objective was to make decisions in line with the economic policies of the leadership. The ECC meeting agenda, decisions and minutes are not shared with the non-economic ministries since.
Even in most of the cases, federal ministries are not aware of any policy or an institution that falls under their jurisdiction. For instance, the Ministry of Industries and Production recently informed a parliamentary panel that it was unable to move the summary about salary of employees of steel mills since the entity, being under privatisation, fell under the Privatization Commission.
The Ministry of Industries and Production being the line ministry of PSM has no role in its privatisation. The matters are being finalised by the CCOP while the ministry is just a silent spectator. If the issue is discussed in the federal cabinet meeting, then the unilateral decisions could not be taken.
It is a common belief that any matter which the authorities want to sweep under the carpet are handed over to Committees and Commissions consisting of mostly yes-men. Recently, the Defense Minister Khwaja Asif also said of a National issue that hand it over to a Committee and with the passing of time people will forget about it. By then some new issue will surface and all will be forgotten. Show chal raha hai – Allah ke Fazlo Karam se.
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