Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has constituted a new Economic Advisory Council (EAC), dominated by people from Punjab as well as industrialists, and also brought Jahangir Khan Tareen back into power corridors months after his retirement from active politics.

The council lacks representation from all provinces and major sectors of the economy and is composed of people who are closely associated with the prime minister.

The Ministry of Finance has notified the new council, which will be chaired by PM Shehbaz. Among its members is Salman Ahmad, whose consultancy firm Mackenzie has won a multimillion-dollar contract for advisory services for digitisation of the Federal Board of Revenue.

“The EAC will be chaired by the prime minister, who will convene its meeting with any required frequency,” the Finance Division said in a notification.

The Prime Minister’s Office has not set out its terms of reference, which gives the body the leverage to discuss and recommend anything related to the economy.

The PM Office has not given due weight to provincial representation and the major sectors’ representation has also not been assured, unlike the past when such councils had broad representation from provinces and businesses. An important induction into the council was the founder of the Istahkam-e-Pakistan Party, Jahangir Khan Tareen, who had retired from active public life after his defeat in February 8 general elections.

The PM has appointed Saquib Sherazi, an auto assembler, as a member of the council. Shahzad Saleem, a textile miller and power producer, has also become the member.

Musadaq Zulqarnain, a leading exporter and industrialist, has been made the council member as well. Zulqarnain is known for his business innovation and growth-oriented policies. The prime minister has included Dr Ijaz Nabi as member of the council. He has long been advising Shehbaz Sharif, mainly on the status of the economy.

Asif Peer, Chief Executive Officer of Systems Limited, an information technology firm, is another member of the council.

Ziad Bashir, a textile miller from Karachi, has also been made the council’s member. He has remained part of many committees set up by the government of former PM Imran Khan and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) administration.

Salman Ahmed, Shahzad Salim, Musadaq Zulqarnain and Dr ljaz Nabi were also members of the April 2022 EAC. The prime minister has not made any federal minister a member of the council. Owing to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s influence over Pakistan’s economic decision-making, the council may not create any meaningful impact and its activities may remain limited to non-binding advisory services.

The finance ministry has already violated an Act of parliament by not securing approval of the federal cabinet for the Budget Strategy Paper for the sake of the IMF.

Where the cabinet and the National Assembly have been ignored, the EAC may not be able to contribute to the ongoing budget-making process.

The government had shelved plans to obtain approval for the Budget Strategy Paper 2025-27 by May 10 – the statutory deadline outlined in the Public Finance Management Act.

As per the Act, the federal government must approve the Budget Strategy Paper, containing quantified macroeconomic and fiscal projections for the medium term, by May 10 of each year.

The original deadline in the law was March 15, which was subsequently revised to April 15 and then again revised to May 10 through amendments to the law. These deadlines were previously relaxed on the pretext that the estimated fiscal numbers of the outgoing year would not be ready by mid-April.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2024.

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