The federal government’s decision to transfer administrative control of the regulatory bodies from the cabinet division to the parent ministries has upset everyone from legal and regulatory experts, provincial government officials to political parties. The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Frequency Allocation Board (FAB) and Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) have now been placed under the direct control of respective ministries.

The move has been hailed as unconstitutional and will have a devastating impact on the end consumers and business environment in the country. The Prime Minister himself has approved the transfer of the regulatory bodies that were established during the Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz regime, for the purpose of protecting the interests of consumers and for providing a level-playing field to all stakeholders involved. The regulatory bodies were supposed to undertake unbiased decisions for sectors under their jurisdictions, but that is set to change completely under the ministries.

The PML-N government has in its tenure, complained of the ‘inefficiencies’ of these bodies, claiming that the regulatory bodies had failed to deliver. According to sources, the move comes in the aftermath of an incident when one regulator had objected to the details of one project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Chinese government had expressed its reservations against it, and so in these circumstances there was “no other choice” but to clip their powers in the larger interest of the country.

The ministry will now directly interfere in the affairs of the regulatory bodies, for instance the authority to extend tenure of the members, which has now been transferred to the ministry concerned. It is very plausible that ministers will use this power to exert pressure on the regulatory bodies, to extend the tenure of members. It is almost impossible for the regulator to be autonomous as the parent ministry of the respective regulator is the policy maker and stakeholder at the same time.

There is no doubt that China is Pakistan’s greatest ally and we are grateful for the investment in the CPEC, but a line must be drawn somewhere. This move takes away accountability and transparency from all the major decisions taken in the interest of the country and it simply must not be allowed.