ISLAMABAD - The government’s decision to transfer administrative control of the regulatory bodies from the cabinet division to the parent ministries is unconstitutional and will have a negative impact on the end consumers and business environment in the country.

Legal and regulatory experts, economists, provincial government officials and political parties have expressed serious reservations over the government’s decision of transferring administrative control of the regulatory bodies to the parent ministries/divisions.

Through amendment to the Rules of Business, 1973, the federal government last Monday transferred five regulatory bodies, including National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA),Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Frequency Allocation Board and Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) to their parents departments. During the PPP regime, the Law Division had strongly opposed the move to transfer the control of OGRA to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources and termed the decision unconstitutional.

The first negative impact of the government’s decision, to transfer the administrative control of the regulatory bodies, came when the government deregulated the CNG sector. Although the decision of deregulation was taken earlier by the ECC, however, it was not made public till Tuesday. 

The decision of transferring the administrative control of the regulatory bodies, particularly NEPRA and OGRA, from the cabinet division to their parent’s ministries/division is against the article 54 of the Constitution, said an official of the KP government told The Nation.

The official said that after the 18th Constitutional Amendment Act, Article 154 (1) clearly stated the Functions and Rules of Procedure of the CCI. “The Council shall formulate and regulate the policies in relation to the matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative List and shall exercise the supervision and control over the related institutions,” he added.

Oil & Gas and Electricity are under Section 2& 4 of the Part II of the Federal Legislative List therefore, OGRA and NEPRA need to be under the supervision and control of CCI, the official said. The government cannot make any amendments to the Rule of Business in violation of the constitution, he added.

A regulatory expert, who requested not to be named, said that the government decision will compromise the autonomy of the regulatory bodies. To ensure transparency and attract the private investment, the government of Musharraf had set up the regulatory authorities. The expert said the transfer of administrative control will force the regulatory bodies to follow the policy guidelines of the government and will be compelled to implement the government decision.

“No regulatory body can claim 100 per cent autonomy even when they were placed under the cabinet division and now the ministry will directly interfere in the affairs of the regulatory bodies through various tactics,” the expert said. With the transfer of administrative control, the authority to extend tenure of the members were also transferred to the ministry concerned and now they will use this power to exert pressure on the regulatory bodies, he.  He said it is hard for the regulator to be autonomous as the parent ministry of the respective regulator is policy maker and stakeholder at the same time.

An official of the Planning Ministry said that the government has not even consulted the Planning Commission on the issue of putting regulatory bodies under the control of the parent ministries/divisions.

The decision of the government will impact the impartiality of the regulatory bodies and will leave the consumers defenseless. Instead of handing over the administrative control it would have been better if the government abolished the regulatory bodies, the official said. The regulatory bodies are the defense wall, for the consumers, against the government policies and the materialism of the private companies. Even it provides a sense of security to the investors, the official added.  The decision will undermine the autonomy necessitated for efficient regulation and may defy very purpose its existence. The decision will send wrong message to the investors and will erode the confidence of the consumers, the official added.

The former finance minister and PPP Senator Saleem Mandviwalla, while terming the decision anti-poor, demanded the government to withdraw it immediately. Senator Saleem Mandviwalla said that regulatory bodies were earlier paralysed in the PML-N regime and they have become ineffective. The federal government should close all these regulatory bodies rather than to make them ineffective, he said.  

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) rejected the decision of giving control of Regulatory bodies to their parent miniseries by changing the rules of business. Saleem Mandviwalla said that the federal government has lost all reasons to call it a democratic government. The government has established worst kind of Authoritative rule in the country, he said.

Senator Saleem Mandviwalla said that PML-N has become habitual of ruining democracy in the country. The PML-N government does not believe in Parliament and democracy and challenging it by its decision.

Senator Mandviwalla is of the view that in a democratic country no one can think of compromising the independence of Regulatory Bodies. All over the world regulatory bodies are given more autonomy to check the market and government decisions to protect the consumers.  

The PML-N government does not want to protect the poor people of Pakistan but it wants to rule them through dictatorship, Senator Mandviwalla added.  

Senator Mandviwalla said that PPP rejects this authoritarian decision of the federal government and demands to withdraw it immediately. Independence of Regulatory Bodies cannot be jeopardised.