ISLAMABAD: In a major reshuffle in its economic team, the government removed on Monday Finance Secretary Salman Siddique and Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Sohail Ahmed in the midst of an imbroglio over the reformed general sales tax.
The reshuffle came at a time when the government has requested the International Monetary Fund for a three-month extension (till March 31) in a 25-month $11.3 billion standby arrangement because of difficulties in implementing key economic reforms, including RGST, containing fiscal deficit and turning around loss-making public sector organisations, particularly in the power sector.
Officials said that textile industry secretary Dr Waqar Masud had been appointed finance secretary for the third time in 33 months. During the period, the economic team has seen five finance secretaries, four finance ministers and three governors of State Bank.
The four finance ministers are: Ishaq Dar, Syed Naveed Qamar, Shaukat Tarin and Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.
The finance secretaries include Dr Waqar Masud (three times), Furrukh Qayyum and Salman Siddique. The three SBP governors are: Dr Shamshad Akhtar, Syed Saleem Raza and Shahid H. Kardar.
Observers described the latest changes as continuation of the government’s ad hocism and lack of focus on economic policy-making. Such changes in key economic posts sent a message of uncertainty to financial markets and international lending agencies, they added.
Mr Masud worked as secretary finance when the PPP-led government came into power in 2008. But he was removed by then finance minister Ishaq Dar of the PML-N. Mr Masud was replaced by Furrukh Qayyum, but reappointed as finance secretary when the PML-N quit the government.
Former finance minister Shaukat Tarin again sacked Mr Masud and appointed Salman Siddique as finance secretary.
Mr Siddique was the longest-serving finance secretary in the present government and held the post for about 22 months. He has been made FBR chairman and will also work as revenue secretary. He will report to Mr Masud.
The Sindh government made a strong move to get rid of Mr Siddique following a row over notification of the 7th NFC award.
During recent weeks, it was widely believed in bureaucratic circles that Wajid Rana, currently working as special secretary finance (BPS-22), had been brought from Washington to replace Mr Siddique who was seen as a replacement for Ms Nargis Sethi, principal secretary to the prime minister. Ms Sethi, however, has survived the reshuffle once again.
Sohail Ahmed, another officer of the district management group, has been appointed planning commission secretary in place of Ashraf Hayat who reached superannuation on Monday.
Finance ministry sources said Mr Siddique was finding it difficult to handle political demands in a tight budgetary situation, primarily because of a reportedly lenient and laid-back style of Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. But other sources said that provincial governments were uncomfortable with Mr Siddique over his handling of negotiations on GST on services.
Dr Waqar Masud was inducted into the bureaucracy by late prime minister Benazir Bhutto. But a few bureaucrats had challenged in the court his late entry into the civil service.