Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cannot delegate formal or informal charge of his office to a federal minister during his absence from the country.
According to sources, the informal charge of running the affairs of the Prime Minister’s office has been handed over to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar during the Prime Minister’s stay in London for medical treatment.
An official of the National Assembly Secretariat told Business Recorder on condition of anonymity, “there is no provision of an acting prime minister in the constitution.”
He said “unlike acting president, there is no provision in the Constitution of acting prime minister and even principal secretary to the prime minister cannot exercise the powers of the prime minister. Files requiring the signature of the prime minister for example summaries must be delayed or sent to him for signature even if he is out of the country or in hospital,” the official added.
Sources in the Cabinet Division told Business Recorder that the Finance Minister may have been given explicit instructions by the prime minister to look after political matters but he can not, under the constitution, allow him to take over his official responsibilities.
He further added that any decision taken by the finance minister in matters requiring the Prime Minister’s written consent including those pertaining to other ministries would have no legal or constitutional value.
Talking to Business Recorder, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Barrister Ali Zafar said that if the prime minister is absent for a long time or unable to function then Parliament may remove and replace him with a new prime minister whereas in the temporary absence of the prime minister from Pakistan, Constitution does not provide for a replacement mechanism.
“The normal functioning of the government, however, shall continue under the Rules of Business but any decisions requiring the prime minister’s approval will not be possible during his absence,” the SCBA president said, adding that under Article 91 of the Constitution the Chief Executive of the country has no power to delegate his function.
Sources further revealed that since September 2015, the Prime Minister convened only one cabinet meeting and the next cabinet meeting can be postponed till budget approval, which is a requirement, however if past precedence is anything to go by the budget can be approved by the cabinet on the day of the budget speech.
Finance Ministry, when asked, said the Prime Minister’s presence would be required early June during the meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) which he chairs.
The four chief ministers and federal and provincial finance and planning and development ministers attend the NEC and under discussion is the development budget and macroeconomic framework for next fiscal year.
The sources said that usually an NEC meeting takes place a couple of days (in some years just a day) before the cabinet meeting that approves the budget for next fiscal year before being presented in parliament by the Finance Minister.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar reportedly enjoys the Prime Minister’s confidence and he has clearly and unambiguously given him preference over his family members.