ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Monday removed Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh from the post of finance minister and replaced him with Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar, information minister Shibli Faraz told local media, saying the new finance team would "devise pro-poor policies."
Shaikh, formerly the prime minister’s special advisor on finance, was sworn in as federal minister last December. His elevation as minister for six months came in light of an Islamabad High Court ruling that the formation of the Cabinet Committee on Privatization was illegal on the grounds that its head, Shaikh, was an unelected official.
Earlier this month, Shaikh lost an opportunity to get elected when he lost a key senate election to an opposition candidate, making it certain he would have to be removed.
According to Faraz, Prime Minister Imran Khan had decided to bring in a new finance team in view of soaring inflation.
Khan "gave the portfolio of finance to Hammad Azhar who is a young and able minister so that he devises policies according to the ground realities of Pakistan and the poor get relief,” Faraz told a local TV channel.
He said he did not know about Shaikh’s future in the government, adding that more changes in the cabinet would be disclosed tomorrow.
The removal - the second of a finance minister in the 2-1/2 years of Khan’s tenure - comes amidst the restart of a $6 billion IMF bailout programme that had been suspended for one year over questions about fiscal and revenue reforms.
Cash-strapped Pakistan is also preparing to float Eurobonds worth around $2 billion to raise capital from international markets about two months before presenting a budget.
“There has been rising inflation, and the prime minister thinks that we need to bring in a fresh team which could devise pro-poor policies,” Faraz told another local channel.
In a Twitter post later in the evening, Faraz said Shaikh should be appreciated for carrying out his job with “diligence and national fervor”:
Azhar took to Twitter to thank the PM for entrusting him with the new portfolio:
According to the Pakistani constitution, the prime minister is empowered to appoint an unelected individual as a minister for six months under Article 91(9). After six months, the individual will “cease to be a minister and shall not before the dissolution of that Assembly be again appointed a minister unless he is elected a member of that Assembly.”
Following Shaikh’s loss in senate polls, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan had questioned how he could remain in office as an unelected member of the cabinet.
"In truly democratic countries, people voluntarily resign from public offices if [they are] not elected," the chief justice had observed while hearing a petition challenging the appointment of all advisers and special assistants to PM Khan.