The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has issued orders to all banks as well as relevant departments to freeze the accounts and property of Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar subsequent to the accountability court issuing bailable arrest warrants for him. He is, at present, in London and has since commented that he would return to the country after Kulsoom Nawaz undergoes her third surgery. It is as yet unclear what Dar’s or the government’s intentions are with respect to his keeping the finance portfolio; however, one thing is certain: Ishaq Dar has been almost invisible since the verdict in the Panama Papers case on 28th July 2017. This contrasts sharply with his previous almost daily exposure to the media through his chairing 45 plus committees, both in the political and the economic arena (with commentators pointing out that he was operating as the Deputy Prime Minister of the country) and/or press releases issued daily by the Press Information Department and/or the Ministry of Finance of high-level decisions taken under his chairmanship. This clearly indicates that his legal difficulties are of such a nature that they require his undivided attention and hence he is no longer able to do justice to his duties as the Minister of Finance.
With the induction of the Abbasi administration on 1st August, the slow chipping away of Dar’s sphere of influence was evident with the Prime Minister issuing notifications carving out two new ministries from the Ministry of Finance – the Ministry of Statistics with Pakistan Bureau of Statistics under its administrative control and the Privatization Commission. In addition, Prime Minister Abbasi decided that he would chair the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet, the highest economic decision-making body of the country.
Officials of the Ministry of Finance have repeatedly told Business Recorder that post-Panama Papers verdict Ishaq Dar has not taken any major policy decision relating to his Ministry. This is extremely disturbing as the economy is currently in a tailspin with a steadily growing trade deficit, and foreign and domestic indebtedness fast reaching unsustainable levels. In other words, given the state of the economy a finance minister who is obviously disengaged from the task given the extent of the legal difficulties he is currently facing needs to resign or, failing that needs to be replaced by the government. Reports indicate that Dar himself requested that he be relieved of his portfolio but that the former Prime Minister did not agree; however, by now there is a strong rumour that he will be allowed to resign.
Now, that the Senate committee on finance too has called upon Ishaq Dar to relinquish his office Dar should go. By not resigning from the cabinet he would neither serve the country’s interest that requires a fully focused on the economy person at the helm nor would it serve his party’s or his own cause. Be that as it may, names for his possible replacement are being discussed which include Sartaj Aziz, an economist by education and experience and who has held this portfolio before and Miftah Ismail who has been reportedly advising the incumbent prime minister on a range of economic-related matters.