If anyone was mistaken to believe that the ruling PTI was done playing musical chairs with its finance team, then the decision on Friday should be an eye opener. Prime Minister Imran Khan has appointed his sixth finance secretary in three years. The outgoing finance secretary Yusuf Khan has been transferred to the Secretariat of the Council of Common Interests, due to his differences on policy and operational issues with the Finance Adviser Shaukat Tarin. Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh has now been given the coveted seat and the task of facing Tarin’s temperament. As reports are rife that not just Khan but even his predecessor was ‘transferred’ due to the high-octane in the Q-Block.
In his new role, Sheikh has quite a few important issues to deal with, such as, making appointments in key departments like the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, and also guarding the public purse ahead of the next general elections. This can appear as a challenge for Sheikh as there is little wiggle room to dole out rupees ahead of the elections, especially when the IMF has already asked the government to reduce public spending. But if past is any guide, it is safe to assume that Sheikh is unlikely to stick around till then. Khan was moved in six months, while his predecessor Dr. Kamran Afzal had served as the finance secretary for only five months. Tarin too is the ruling PTI’s fourth de facto finance minister. His tenure ended in October but he is all set to contest the Senate election from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on December 20.
However, such frequent shake-ups in the country’s economic team have undoubtedly caused uncertainty in the economic policy front. That too at a time when the country is faced with double digit inflation recorded in November at 11.5 percent, consecutive trade deficits with a ballooning import bill of $7.84 billion against $3.6 billion – an 83 percent rise – than last year same month, and gas crisis owing to the economic managers ad hoc policies of not being able to procure timely shipments of the liquified natural gas (LNG). With the government’s focus on the Fund’s ‘prior actions’ to revive the $6 billion programme, it is also all set to unveil the mini-budget. How the new secretary is going to adjust in the middle of this is anybody’s guess. It must be noted that it is the secretary finance that plays a critical role in negotiations with the IMF. The government should really set its house in order than resort to only appointing ‘yes-men’.