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Headless bodies

A number of government organisations are working without permanent heads, putting the government’s ambitious privatisation plan in doldrums

Headless bodies

The incumbent government has been in power for a good six months but it still seems indecisive on many fronts, including appointment of heads of government organisations, statutory bodies, regulatory authorities etc.

These appointments are extremely important as the government has launched an ambitious privatisation plan and vowed to provide a level playing field to the private sector and potential investors. In the absence of qualified, competent and neutral heads of these bodies, it is next to impossible to achieve the above-mentioned objectives. Neutrality is a key to good governance which should be kept in view while making these appointments.

The situation on ground is that there are no permanent heads of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and many others. At places, there are acting heads who, though help complete quorums, cannot take strategic decisions and have been under the scanner of Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) for long.

Inordinate delay in these appointments has made many of the concerned organisations ineffective. The government seems to be aware of this fact but it is taking calculated decisions, mainly due to the proactive role of the judiciary. Several appointments and removals by the government were declared null and void by the judiciary as it found them politically biased and violative of the principles of merit.

So, the question here is whether the situation will remain the same or there would be a breakthrough on this front?

Sources at the federal establishment division say there have been recent developments. The Federal Commission for Selection of Heads of Public Sector Organisations (FCHPSO) has advertised for 33 of these posts and the process of selection is underway, they add.

Inordinate delay in these appointments has made many of the concerned organisations ineffective. The government seems to be aware of this fact but it is taking calculated decisions, mainly due to a proactive judiciary.

FCHPSO was formed on SC’s order of July 22, 2013, in which it had asked the government to form a three-member commission which should ensure the appointments are made on merit and in a transparent manner. The judgement, in fact, clips powers of the prime minister to make appointments on these posts. Experts believe irregularities found in appointments made by ex-PM Yousaf Raza Gliani called for this move.

The court order covers 58 posts of heads in organisations falling in the domain of cabinet division, commerce division, aviation division, national food security and research division, national health services, regulations and coordination division, religious affairs and interfaith harmony division, housing and works division, industries and production division, interior division, information, broadcasting and national heritage division, information technology and telecom division, inter-provincial and coordination division, prime minister’s office, petroleum and natural resources division, railways division and water and power division.

An official in the federal secretariat tells TNS that the members of the commission meet rarely which is a reason why the process is extraordinarily slow. One of the three members was away from country for long which brought everything to a halt. The process has started once again after his return and reportedly the commission is holding interviews, he adds.

The official says independent heads of regulatory authorities and organisations bracing for privatisation are a must to give confidence to investors. But, unfortunately, these have never enjoyed financial and operational autonomy and remained subservient to the state. “Let’s hope the new appointees bring a positive change and challenge the status quo,” he adds.

The official gives examples of how this delay has affected the working of organisations. He says there are several applications pending with NEPRA for tariff determination but decisions have not been taken despite passage of years. New electricity projects cannot be launched till NEPRA decides the unit price to be paid to investors. This has led to delay in launching new projects.

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Similarly, in the absence of NAB chief, no fresh investigations could be launched. Issuance of 3G licenses is also not possible in the presence of acting PTA chief.

Rashid Munir, who works at Commission I section in the establishment division, claims that FCHPSO has recommended appointments of heads of PTA, PIA and NEPRA. Besides they are holding interviews for appointments to PSM on December 26 and PEPCO and NTDC on December 27.

Another eagerly awaited appointment is that of the CEO of Drug Regulatory Authority, which is directly responsible for regulating the pharmaceutical industry and ensuring the wellbeing of patients in Pakistan. Currently, there is a CEO from within the setup and an advertisement in newspapers was placed in October last for a permanent one.

The need for having a drug regulatory body was also felt strongly when the Supreme Court of Pakistan observed there was no mechanism in place to check malpractices in the pharmaceutical sector. This happened when a large number of heart patients died due to drug reaction following their medical treatment at Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

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A pharmaceutical company executive, requesting anonymity, says that the government was not even willing to allow regulators to work independently.

He says based on the facts and numerous discussions between the stakeholders and DRA throughout the year 2012-13, the latter recommended a 15 per cent increase in the prices of those drugs which have not been given any increase since 2001. But the prime minister reportedly revoked the order which, as per sources, was okayed by him a couple of days ago.

He says the government tried to gain political mileage by reversing the raise in prices of medicines but, in fact, jeopardized the independence of DRA. Many companies will stop producing several drugs for being non-viable and people will have to buy the imported or adulterated medicines.

The executive defends his case, saying many pharmaceutical companies did not get any raise during the last 11 years while all the inputs increased by more than 100 per cent over this period. For example, he says, the rupee depreciated manifold as it rose from Rs54 against a dollar then to Rs108 at the moment.

Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri, Executive Director Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and member of federal government’s economic advisory council, believes the practice of having acting heads of organisations should be done away with. Though they (the acting heads) fill the posts they are on weak footing and cannot take major initiatives. Polarisation, lobbying for permanent heads and uncertainty with the organisation made them ceremonial heads, he concludes.

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