PM appoints Hammad Azhar as new finance minister

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday decided to remove Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh as Finance Minister due to his failure to keep the ‘price hike’ in check and replace him with Industries Minister Hammad Azhar.

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PM Khan has asked Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh to step down from his role as the Finance Minister due to his failure to check the surging inflation and has decided to replace him with Industries Minister Hammad Azhar, revealed minister for information and broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz to a local television channel.

“Prime Minister Imran gave the portfolio of finance to Hammad Azhar, who is a young and able minister to devise policies according to the ground realities of Pakistan and the poor can get relief,” stated Shibli. The prime minister has decided to bring in a new finance team in view of the inflation that had taken place in the country, he added.

According to reports, there was also some resentment amongst government ministers on matters of taxation and bill-granting autonomy to the State Bank of Pakistan.

This move has come weeks after Sheikh was defeated by Yusuf Raza Gillani in the Senate Elections. Shaikh, who is not a member of Parliament was previously appointed as an adviser to PM Khan on finance after Finance Minister Asad Umar tendered in his resignation amid a cabinet reshuffle  in 2019. Shaikh was later handed over the finance portfolio in December 2020.

But in December last year, the Islamabad High Court ruled that special assistants and advisors have no authority to chair or sit in on meetings of cabinet committees.

According to the judgment,  Article 93 of the Constitution permits the prime minister to appoint up to five advisors, but the conferring of a federal minister status on an advisor is “only for the purpose of perks and privileges” and “does not make the advisor a federal minister as such”.

The government, however, tried to tackle the situation by taking advantage of the Article 91(9) of the Constitution under which the prime minister is empowered to appoint an un-elected individual as a minister for six months.

Yet according to Article 91 (9) of the Constitution, Hafeez could not carry on as a minister after six months unless he was elected to one of the houses. Hence, it was necessary for him to be elected to the Senate in order to continue as the finance minister after June.

Following his defeat, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan had questioned how Shaikh was allowed to hold office as an unelected member of the cabinet, despite losing the Senate Elections.

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According to reports, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh did not attend office on Monday which indicates that the decision had already been communicated to him.  Though the official notification of Hammad Azhar being appointed as the new Finance Minister has not been uploaded on the Cabinet Division’s website, the weekly meeting of National Price Monitoring Committee (NPMC) was still presided over by him.

Born to the  former Governor of Punjab Mian Muhammad Azhar, Hammad Azhar is a barristor by profession.

Azhar graduated with a bachelors degree in Development Economics from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and completed his postgraduate diploma in law from BPP law school in London. He is also a member of The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.

Azhar has previously served as Federal Minister for Economic Affairs from 10 July 2019 till 5 April 2020 and Federal Minister of Industries and Production from 6 April 2020 till 6 March 2021.

In June 2019, Azhar had presented the PTI government’s first annual budget in the National Assembly.

Reacting to his appointment, he tweeted, “I am honoured to be entrusted with the additional charge of Finance by the Prime Minister.”

“Pakistan’s economy has made significant gains towards stabilisation since 2018. We shall continue to consolidate these gains and strengthen the growth momentum,” he added.

In October 2020, the prime minister, promised to the people through his official social media account on Twitter that the government was already trying to find causes for the price hike, admitting that  this was a growing challenge for the country.

The people of Pakistan are grappling with the increase in the prices of consumer items since the past few months as inflation went up to 8.7 per cent in February from 5.7pc in January.

The opposition continues to blame the government for bringing down the GDP down to as low as 0.4pc from 5.8pc during the PML-N led government.

Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari welcomed the development and termed the removal of Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh as a victory of the Pakistan Democratic Movement.