ISLAMABAD: Amid irregular schedule of meetings of the cabinet, the federal ministries and divisions have started extensively seeking crucial decision making through circulation of summaries.
This has perturbed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and he has sought an immediate end to the practice, directing the cabinet division to ensure compliance.
“It is now becoming a routine for the ministries/divisions to move summaries for approval of the cabinet through circulation at the last moment which is not a recommended course of procedure,” the prime minister has said while taking serious note of the situation.
Sources told Dawn that the prime minister made the observation after noting that the tendency of obtaining approval of the cabinet through circulation by ministries and divisions was on the rise. The ministries were taking undue advantage of rule 17 (1) (b) in cases listed in rule 16 of the Rules of Business 1973.
These sources said some ministries appeared to have sought approval of decisions through circulation to avoid critical observations from adversarial stakeholders instead of waiting for cabinet meetings while in other cases they waited until the last moment but the cabinet meetings were not called for long enough time.
“In view of the above, the Prime Minister has been pleased to desire that the provisions of Rule 17(1) (b) ibid should only be invoked in cases where enough time is not available with the concerned ministry/division to go through the formal approval of the Cabinet,” read a formal notification.
The cabinet division has asked all the ministries and divisions “to comply with the…instruction of the Prime Minister in letter and spirit”.
A senior official said there was nothing wrong with decision making by the federal cabinet through circulation but such a practice should be employed in exceptional cases and not as a routine. He, however, conceded that excessive decision making through circulation had negative impact on quality of decision making.
He said the Rule 17 of the rules of business envisaged that cases referred to the cabinet be disposed of by discussions at a meeting of the cabinet or by circulation amongst ministries or by discussion at a meeting of a committee of the cabinet. In case of a decision by a committee, the federal cabinet has to ratify it unless separately authorised by the cabinet.
Another official said it was unfair to put all the blame on ministers and secretaries. The Prime Minister’s Office and the cabinet division also share the responsibility for the governance problem.
He recalled that the federal cabinet used to meet fortnightly or at least once a month under former prime ministers Shaukat Aziz and Yousaf Raza Gilani to discuss important government matters and endorse decisions of the economic coordination committee of the cabinet (ECC) that used to meet on weekly basis or decisions of other committees like those dealing with privatisation, investment etc.
However, cabinet meetings under the current government were irregular and sometimes held after three to six months. Eventually, the ministries either could not wait indefinitely or rush through the process citing emergency reasons like deadlines of the international lending agencies under loan agreements and disbursements.
Under the Rule 17, the cabinet secretary was required under the general or special orders of the prime minister to indicate as to the manner in which a case shall be disposed of. However, the cases moved for cabinet approval by the ministries at the eleventh hour limited the cabinet secretary’s role in matters of immediate nature.
Rule 16 of the rule of business is an all encompassing provision that deals almost with entire functioning of the federal cabinet including cases for legislation, money bills, official or non-official cases, promulgation of ordinances, budgetary proposals, budget statements and supplementary budgets and all matters relating to article 80 and 84 of the constitution.
It also covered proposals for levy, abolition, reduction or change in taxes and loans, references to the supreme court of Pakistan for an advice on a question of law, electricity generation and transmission, besides article 149 of the constitution dealing with concurrent legislative list, formation of ministerial delegations etc.