CPEC Authority Bill 2020: More powers transfer from parliamentarians to un-elected officials?

CPEC Authority Bill 2020, a controversial piece of legislation, has proposed to remove the minister for planning, development and reform as co-chairman of the Joint Cooperation Committee of the CPEC - the strategic body responsible for decision-making of the CPEC. Who will be the in-charge of the CPEC Authority once the bill is passed?

CPEC BRI

Pakistan’s federal government is set to delegate more and some unprecedented administrative, financial and punitive powers to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority. Sources within the federal government spoke to GVS and confirmed that the government through the CPEC Authority Bill 2020 intends to make the authority more effective. “There is no other purpose behind the development,” the source clarified.

CPEC Authority and Opposition parties in Pakistan

The government had established the CPEC Authority through an ordinance in October 2019, before the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Beijing. The basic aim of forming the authority is to ensure timely completion of the CPEC projects. The prime minister has said the CPEC Authority will help ensure coordination among the departments concerned. Lt Gen Retd. Asim Saleem Bajwa was made its chairman.

Opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party, have already rejected the CPEC Authority and termed it a violation of recommendations of the parliamentary committee concerned.

While the PPP criticised the creation of the CPEC Authority and said it undermined the authority of parliament, the PML-N was of the view that it would create problems and complications in collaboration between the ministries and departments. This would create bureaucratic hurdles and limitations that would hamper and stall the CPEC, they claimed.

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Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also criticised the formation of the CPECA and said the government was making the corridor project controversial.

CPEC Authority Bill 2020: Planning Minister’s role omitted?

A story published in The Express Tribune, Pakistan’s respected English language newspaper, revealed that a draft prepared by the government to regulate the CPEC Authority intends to remove the role of the premier and the planning minister in authority’s affairs.

According to the report, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr Jehanzeb Khan on Monday held the first meeting of all government stakeholders to review the proposed CPEC Authority Bill 2020.

They said the Foreign Office representative raised the issue of implications of the changes for the CPEC framework agreement, signed between the two countries over five years back. But the changes have been proposed to make the CPEC Authority more effective in execution of the multibillion-dollar projects.

In a major change, it has been proposed to remove minister for planning, development and reform as co-chairman of the Joint Cooperation Committee of the CPEC – the strategic body responsible for decision-making of the CPEC.

Instead of the planning minister, the CPEC Authority chairman will be the co-chair of the JCC along with the vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China.

ET’s sources said the meeting participants suggested that Pakistan needed to take China into confidence first before making such a big change.

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It has also been proposed to appoint a chief of staff of the CPEC Authority, who will assist the CPEC Authority chairman.

The CPEC Authority Bill 2020 proposes to eliminate the role of the planning ministry as an administrative division and the authority is proposed to be placed directly under the supervision of the prime minister.

As against its existing role of coordination, the government has proposed to give powers of conceiving, planning and execution of CPEC to the authority, showed the draft bill seen by The Express Tribune. The prime minister’s powers will only be limited to the ones defined in the CPEC bill.

Moreover, in case a public office holder does not cooperate with the CPEC Authority, the chairman will have the power to order an investigation against the public office holder, according to the draft bill.

Before CPEC Authority Bill 2020, authority was answerable to the Prime Minister?

Currently, the CPEC Authority chairman is answerable to the planning minister and the authority works under the Planning, Development and Reform Division under the Rules of Business 1973. But this has been omitted in the proposed bill.

“The authority shall be under an obligation to comply with the directives and policy guidelines issued by the prime minister, to the extent that these are not inconsistent with the provisions of this act,” according to another proposal that limits the role of the premier in the authority’s affairs.

A new post of chief of staff is being proposed in the bill and the position of CEO is proposed to be abolished. Currently, the CEO is a Grade-20 officer from the bureaucracy. The two positions of executive directors are proposed to be abolished.

The planning minister is proposed to be removed as co-chair of the JCC and CPEC Authority chairman will be the co-chair of the JCC.

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“The ‘Joint Cooperation Committee’ means that the committee [is] jointly headed by the chairperson of the authority and the vice-chairperson of the National Development and Reforms Commission of the People’s Republic of China,” reads the proposed bill.

The opposition parties are yet to respond to the CPEC Authority Bill 2020. Reliable sources claim that the PPP is likely to oppose the bill as the draft reveals that the role of the elected members of the parliament is being reduced, something the PPP always claimed to have safeguarded.

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