Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expanded his cabinet this week by taking in two new ministers. It was not the expansion many aspirants in his party had been hoping for. It appeared to have more to do with restoring and building the images of the new entrants.
Mr Zahid Hamid, appointed Minister for Climate Change, is only rejoining the cabinet after being cleared of the stigma of being a collaborator of Pervez Musharraf by the Special Court trying the former military dictator for treason early in November. Mr Hamid was law minister of PM Sharif, but was sidelined when the charge arose during the trial as he had held the same portfolio under the dictator.
An official source said Mr Hamid had developed a good rapport with the prime minister, who frequently sought his advice on tricky legal matters. His expertise would still be useful, according to the official.
Dr Tariq Fazal is a new face in the cabinet, though, and the envy of many. A few days after being put in charge of the federal Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD), the mighty Capital Development Authority (CDA) also was put under him.
His appointment as Minister of State for CADD raised many eyebrows inside the government and out of it. For one, incumbent minister Barrister Usman Ibrahim was sidelined to make way for him. Though not removed from the cabinet, “poor Ibrahim is now a minister without portfolio, an OSD minister,” said a government source.
“Barrister Ibrahim was doing fine, even better than other ministers,” the source added. “He was replaced just to accommodate Dr Fazal.”
Dr Fazal is a local MNA, representing the NA-49 constituency of Islamabad, which is mainly rural. He is said to have made his fortune in real estate.
Many scandals are associated with that business in Islamabad, where price of land is the highest in the country. And the CDA, being the prime owner and controller of the valuable land, is accused of being involved in most of them.
Even Malik Shujaur Rehman, the general secretary of the Islamabad chapter of the ruling PML-N, has his doubts about Dr Fazal’s appointment. Only time would tell, he says, whether it was a wise decision, or one that was dictated by people in the party with a vested interest in real estate.
“I think putting him in charge of the CADD and the CDA is a clear case of conflict of interest,” said Malik Rehman, who fell out with Dr Fazal over the award of party tickets for the forthcoming local elections in Islamabad.
Another PML-N official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Dawn that ever since the party came to power in June 2013, Dr Fazal had been pulling strings to land the CADD ministry.
“He was offered, but wouldn’t have any other portfolio,” the official said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the real estate market witnesses a boom with Dr Fazal as CADD minister.”
Such statements may hide jealousy, but the exuberance Dr Fazal displayed on his first appearance in the National Assembly on Wednesday as minister had to be seen to be believed.
Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi, who was presiding over the session, had to discipline the minister as he moved beaming into the hall, receiving facilitations from his party.
“Dr sahib accept my facilitation on your new assignment, but please take your seat. You are disturbing the proceedings of the house.”
Surprisingly, it was a leader of the PTI, the PML-N’s political foe, who saw Dr Fazal’s ministerial appointment as “a positive development”.
Asked if he thought the ruling party made the appointment to influence the outcome of the upcoming local election in Islamabad, PTI MNA Asad Umar, representing the city, said: “On the face of it does. But, I think it is good that a man who has the mandate of the local people has been put in charge of the ministry relevant to the area.”
At least if he fails to deliver his party’s promises to the people of the federal capital, the PTI MNA said: “Dr Tariq would not have the excuse that his hands were tied.”
“Deliver or get ready to go home,” was his message to the PML-N.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2015