The PPP and the PML-N parliamentary teams failed to hammer out a consensus on the 10-point economic reforms agenda on Tuesday, the last day of a `deadline` given by Nawaz Sharif to the government. However, at the same time, the PML-N extended its deadline by two days, providing hope that at least the rest of the week will pass without more ultimatums and threats of political divorce, despite a deadlock over an independent accountability body and two other unresolved issues. This was reinforced by Senator Ishaq Dar, the head of the PML-N team, who told journalists that the government team had been told to inform them about `any further progress that they may make in the next 48 hours` so that it could be discussed by the central organising committee of his party on Friday. Mr Sharif will chair the meeting. The Friday meeting is now to decide the future course of political action. In the meantime, Dawn has learnt, the two sides would stay in touch through some mutually acceptable coalition partners and perhaps also high-level contacts between the leaderships of the two parties. This too indicates that the leadership of the two parties is in no hurry to finalise the divorce that the PML-N has been threatening. Mr Dar also appeared to indicate this. Asked about his assessment of the progress on the 10-point agenda, he said evasively: �The 10 glasses are not full; one is quarter full, another is half full and perhaps one is completely full.� He said he could not say a lot about the details of the progress report because that would kill the very objective of the organising committee meeting. Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh also refused to discuss details of the negotiations and said that both teams would seek guidance from their leaderships. Undoubtedly, the two men were not willing to reveal the extent of disharmony that had marred the `stocktaking round`. In fact, the PML-N team threatened a boycott over the inordinate delay in the constitution of a 12-member parliamentary committee to finalise a procedure for appointing an independent chief election commissioner and members of the Election Commission of Pakistan. The two sides had agreed to the names of parliamentarians for the committee which had been sent to the speaker of the National Assembly for formal notification. A member of the government team said that initially it appeared that the two sides would part ways, but for the head of the government team, Dr Shaikh. He persuaded the PML-N team to stay put as he spoke to the speaker. The threat worked as Fehmida Mirza agreed to immediately notify the committee, a notification that had been pending for about three weeks. This, however, was not the only hitch. More serious was the deadlock that emerged over the accountability law. The two sides expressed divergent views on the independence of the chairman of the proposed national accountability bureau. The PML-N team insisted that the chief should be appointed with consensus from among a panel of former judges. The government side, on the other hand, maintained that the accountability body was already independent with the appointment of Justice (retd) Syed Deedar Hussain Shah. It tried to assure the PML-N team that the government would ensure that the accountability chief remained impartial. It also cited constitutional and legal hitches in the removal of the incumbent NAB chairman. The PML-N team said the existing accountability mechanism was unacceptable and gave 24 hours to the government team for consultation with their political leadership. A third sticking point, Dawn has learnt, was the PML-N`s dissatisfaction with the proposed procedure for the appointment of heads of public sector entities and constitutional bodies through search committees. The government team assured them that a transparent procedure had been finalised and would be implemented after its approval by the prime minister very soon. Yet, overall the government side remains hopeful about the talks � in complete contrast to the statements that have emanated from the PML-N in recent days. A cabinet member said the government team told the PML-N that it had implemented seven points of Mr Sharif`s agenda and progress was taking place on the three others. The issues on which the government claims to have made tangible progress include reduction in the cabinet size, recovery of written-off loans, reconstitution of the boards of state enterprises, restructuring of the enterprises, constitution of a judicial commission on sugar pricing and constitution of a parliamentary committee on Election Commission. The government side was of the view that overall this meant that more than 45 per cent progress had been achieved within a short period of 45 days and hence the process of political engagement should continue. At the same time, the government team is hoping for support from the PML-N for containing the current year`s fiscal deficit at 5.5 per cent. Otherwise it could cross eight per cent of the GDP by the end of the year. The government also informed the PML-N about the planned recovery of Rs45 billion through tax audits and putting in place a mechanism to reduce tax evasion. It sought PML-N`s cooperation in persuading the provincial governments to create a cash surplus of Rs100-120 billion out of additional Rs300 billion transfers under the new National Finance Commission award. The meeting was informed that revival of the magistracy system would be required for controlling prices of essential commodities and a number of measures had been identified to reform and amend the prosecution system in this regard besides improving police`s powers. A draft has been prepared by the federal government and will be shared with the provincial home and law secretaries for finalising the magistracy law.
By: Dawn News