Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday appointed a new federal finance secretary – the sixth in three years – after the current one bowed out, leaving many crucial decisions on his successor including key appointments and guarding public purse ahead of next elections.

The government transferred finance secretary Yusuf Khan as he was reluctant to continue in the post due to differences on many policy and operational issues. Khan also wanted to work in a less stressful environment.

“Yusuf Khan is transferred and posted as Secretary of the Secretariat of the Council of Common Interests,” said a notification issued by the Establishment Division.

Khan remained the finance secretary for hardly six months. During the six-month stint, he had been unwilling to continue on many occasions, said sources.

The outgoing secretary also had differences of opinion on the Kamyab Pakistan Programme, which eventually led to a significant cut in the size of the programme and the amount of guarantees.

There was also pressure on Khan to give a budget to the Special Technology Zone Authority, which he refused without doing proper paperwork, said the sources.

Khan was weak in terms of economic management but was a good administrator, said the sources.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Waqar Masood Khan had played a role in posting Khan as the finance secretary. His predecessor Dr Kamran Afzal had served as finance secretary for just five months.

In Khan’s place, PM Khan has brought in Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh as new finance secretary. Sheikh was earlier serving as planning ministry secretary.

Read No steps to curb swelling imports

In May, when the government posted Khan as finance secretary, its first choice was Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh. Sheikh at that time preferred to serve in the planning ministry.

The government has posted Abdul Aziz Uqaili as the new secretary of the Planning Division.

Lack of stability in the economic team is causing uncertainty in the economic policy front. The stock market on Thursday had a bloodbath when the index dropped over 2,135 points after the market reacted to the news of a $7.85 billion monthly import bill and the government’s desperation to borrow at any cost from the banks.

Shaukat Tarin is the fourth de facto finance minister appointed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Tarin’s first ad-hoc term for six months ended on October 16 after the government could not get him elected as a member of Parliament. Now, he will contest the Senate election from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, scheduled to take place on December 20th.

The finance secretary has been transferred in the middle of the government’s efforts to implement pre-conditions set by the IMF for the revival of the $6 billion stalled programme. The secretary finance always plays a critical role in negotiations with the IMF, as all the technical level issues are sorted out at the level of the finance secretary.

Another challenge for the new finance secretary will be to make appointments in key departments on merit like Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). The two positions of the commissioners SECP have already been vacant for the past many months.

The incumbent Chairman SECP Amir Khan is also going to complete his term in few days and the government has not yet advertised the position of the commissioner that will be vacant after the end of Amir’s tenure.

It has to be seen whether the new finance secretary will like to make fresh appointments in the SECP by following a transparent procedure.

Fiscal consolidation will be another challenge for Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh, as there will be increasing pressure on him to open public purse ahead of next general elections.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2021.

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