• Imam replaces Khusro Bakhtiar as food security minister
• Secretary, senior officials removed
• Babar Awan in, Arbab Shahzad out
• Hammad Azhar made minister for industries

ISLAMABAD: In a significant cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday changed portfolios of over half a dozen members including Minister for National Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar.

The reshuffle was made two days after a months-long inquiry exposed the involvement of some leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and allied parties in the wheat flour and sugar crises in the country.

Mr Bakhtiar’s portfolio was changed from National Food Security to Economic Affairs, while another prominent agriculturist Syed Fakhar Imam, who chairs the Kashmir Committee of Parliament, was made Minister for National Food Security.

The food crisis inquiry report revealed that Mr Khusro’s close relative Makhdoom Omar Bakhtiar had gained “undue benefits” in terms of subsidy in export of sugar and increasing its price.

The prime minister, who announced a day ago that action would be taken on the inquiry report after forensic, also removed National Food Security Secretary Hashim Popalzai, replacing him with Omar Hameed.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar said some senior officials of the food ministry in Punjab had resigned or had been made Officer on Special Duty (OSD). They included former secretary Naseem Sadiq and Samiullah Chaudhry.

Answering a question regarding the selection of Mr Imam, the aide said Mr Imam belonged to the community of agriculturists, therefore he would better protect the interests of farmers instead of industrialists.

He said Mr Bakhtiar had requested the premier to change his portfolio to avoid “conflict of interest”, because his relative’s name had appeared in the inquiry report.

However, Special Assistant to PM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan denied this.

In a video message telecast on state-run PTV, she said there was no such example of self-accountability in the political history of the country as demonstrated by the PTI government.

She said the prime minister was fulfilling his responsibilities as a trustee of people and making changes in the cabinet was his discretion.

She denied reports that Mr Bakhtiar had resigned from his ministry, saying his portfolio had been changed by the prime minister.

A source privy to the PM’s decisions told Dawn that more actions against officials and departments, who had given undue benefits to the sugar and wheat cartels, would be seen in coming days.

On Saturday, two reports on the recent sugar and wheat crises were made public, exposing ruling PTI’s bigwig Jahangir Tareen and allied parties’ leaders Bakhtiar, Monis Elahi of PML-Q and their relatives as being involved in the scam.

On Monday, as news of the cabinet reshuffle emerged, former Punjab government spokesperson Shahbaz Gill tweeted that Mr Tareen had been removed as chairperson of the Task Force on Agriculture “in light of findings of sugar and wheat inquiry report”.

However, Mr Tareen also turned to social media to clarify that he never headed the task force. “I was never chairman of any task force. Can anyone show me a notification with me as C’man?? Pl get your facts right people,” he tweeted.

The prime minister had ordered stern action against those found involved in the crises “irrespective of their status and party affiliation”.

The source revealed that two types of actions were recommended in the reports — administrative action and legal action after finding criminality in forensic audit. The administrative action, the source said, would be taken in the next three to four days and some top officials responsible for irregularities, negligence and backing “sugar and wheat mafias” would be sacked. While stern action would be taken against wheat and sugar cartels after the release of forensic reports.

Adviser

In the reshuffle, one of the legal wizards of the ruling PTI Babar Awan was made adviser to the PM on parliamentary affairs, while PM’s adviser on establishment Arbab Shahzad was removed. It is believed Mr Shahzad has been removed to accommodate Mr Awan as according to the Constitution the prime minister can keep not more than five advisers.

As Mr Awan is neither an MNA nor a senator, he could not become a federal or state minister therefore he was appointed as an adviser to PM.

A source in Prime Minister Office said it was expected that Arbab Shahzad could be appointed later as special assistant to the PM.

Hammad, Swati

Another cabinet member Hammad Azhar, who was minister for economic affairs before the portfolio was given to Mr Bakhtiar, was made minister for industries.

In another decision, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati was made minister for narcotics control.

Amin replaces Siddiqui

Interestingly, the disgruntled Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) also made a comeback in the cabinet as its leader Syed Aminul Haq was made federal minister for information technology/telecommunication, while the resignation of MQM chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, who previously held the same ministry, was accepted.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Amin agreed that two ministries were offered to the MQM but only one was given. However, he said the party was not greedy for another ministry. He said MQM’s relations with federal government normalised after the PTI government fulfilled their demands related to Bahawalpur and uplift of neglected areas in Karachi and other parts of Sindh.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020