Asad Umar returns to federal cabinet as planning minister


–Sources say Khusro Bakhtiar has been removed as planning minister over China’s complaints of his ministry’s lackluster performance


ISLAMABAD: Former finance minister Asad Umar will make a return to the federal cabinet as the minister for planning and special initiatives, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan announced on Monday.

Firdous said that as part of an expansion in the cabinet, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, who was until now serving as the minister for planning and development, will be made the federal minister for petroleum. A notification announcing the changes will be issued soon, she added.

Asad Umar had resigned from his post as finance minister on April 18. He announced his decision on Twitter and said that though he was offered the post of energy minister, he had decided not to take it. Umar had received a lot of criticism following his handling of the country’s financial position.

Prime Minister Imran had in October hinted at some changes in the federal cabinet after some leaders, during a meeting of the PTI parliamentary party, complained about “non-cooperation” of some ministers in addressing people’s grievances.

Imran has repeatedly stressed that he will continue to review the portfolios assigned to ministers and advisers based on their performances. “Those who will not deliver will be removed,” he said on one occasion.

Sources told Pakistan Today that the government had already decided to replace Bakhtiar and it was only a matter of time before the announcement was made. Sources added that Prime Minister Imran Khan had been informed by China about the lackluster performance of Bakhtiar as the planning minister.

“Due to the ministry’s lackluster performance, an impression had developed that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) had been slowed down. While the Chinese embassy clarified this time and time again, the Planning Ministry could not do the same. The officials of the ministry often came unprepared to the Joint Working Groups as well as the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC),” sources said.

Sources also said that as the planning minister, Bakhtiar had failed in retaining his team in the CPEC unit. “As soon as Bakhtiar took over, the spokesperson of the ministry as well as the spokesperson of the CPEC unit, Asim Khan, resigned. Khan had been instrumental in spreading information about CPEC to the media but after his departure, the minister decided against appointing anyone which led to a communication gap, thus giving out the impression that nothing had been happening in the ministry,” they added.

“Khan’s Development and Communication unit had created an impression that CPEC was former premier Nawaz Sharif’s brainchild destined to turn around Pakistan’s economy. When Khan left, there was nobody left to bridge the gap between the ministry and the media,” sources further said.

Sources disclosed that when Hassan Daud Butt, the acting project director of CPEC, resigned, Shaukat Khattak, the deputy media director of the ministry, also resigned and these important posts were never filled. Many key posts related to CPEC are also vacant and the government has neither appointed anyone to these posts nor has it giving the acting charge to other officials, sources added.

Sources further said that the Planning Commission also failed to develop a liaison with the Chinese embassy or even with their counterparts in China’s Ministry of National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC).

“Another disaster the ministry made was that Joint Secretary Dr Liaquat Ali Shah was appointed as the project director of CPEC while he did not have the relevant skills to handle the technical affairs of CPEC. Finally, top officials of the Chinese government requested PM Imran to handle the affairs of CPEC himself and subsequently a CPEC Authority was formed to streamline the affairs of the ministry,” sources concluded.