New blood joins old guard in federal cabinet

Published March 12, 2024
ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari administers oath of office to members of the federal cabinet at Aiwan-i-Sadr, on Monday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari administers oath of office to members of the federal cabinet at Aiwan-i-Sadr, on Monday.—APP

• 19-member body sworn in; Dar made foreign minister, ex-HBL CEO to lead finance ministry
• Attaullah Tarar becomes information minister; lone woman Shaza Khawaja yet to be allocated portfolio
• In first cabinet meeting, PM Shehbaz orders strict check on food prices during Ramazan

ISLAMABAD: A mix of young and experienced players were sworn in on Monday as President Asif Ali Zardari administered the oath of office to 19 members of the federal cabinet.

There are a couple of surprises in the allocation of portfolios, as four-time finance czar Ishaq Dar is named foreign minister, while banker and former HBL chief Muhammad Aurangzeb has been picked to lead the government’s finance team.

The lone woman in the cabinet, Minister of State Shaza Fatima Khwaja, has yet to be assigned a portfolio, while the coveted slot of information minister has gone to Attaullah Tarar.

Soon after the oath-taking ceremony, the first meeting of the federal cabinet was chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, where it was resolved that the government would work to provide relief to the common man.

Incidentally, Mr Auran­g­zeb’s application for Pakistani citizenship was approved by the cabinet meeting after he took oath as a minister. The former banker was previously a citizen of the Netherlands.

Chief among other old faces making a comeback are PML-N stalwarts Khawaja Asif (defence, defence production and aviation), Ahsan Iqbal (planning, development and special initiatives), Azam Nazeer Tarar (law, justice and human rights), Musadik Malik (petroleum and power), Riaz Hussain Pirzada (housing and works) and Rana Tanveer Hussain (industries and production).

Two members of the erstwhile caretaker setup, former Punjab CM Mohsin Naqvi (interior and narcotics control) and former minister Ahad Cheema (economic affairs and establishment division) have also been accommodated.

PML-Q’s Chaudhry Salik Hussain (overseas Pakistanis and human resource development), Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party President Abdul Aleem Khan (privatization and Board of Investment) and MQM-P leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui (science, technology, federal education and professional training) are other members from the eight-party who have been accommodated in the 19-member cabinet.

The PPP, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), National Party (NP) and PML-Zia, however, have chosen to stay away from the cabinet thus far.

Qaiser Sheikh, a veteran MNA from Chiniot has been included in the cabinet for the first time and given the portfolio of maritime affairs.

Former Balochistan CM Jam Kamal Khan has been given the commerce portfolio, while Sardar Awais Leghari has been given charge of the railways.

PML-N KP leader Amir Muqam has been handed states and frontier regions, with additional charge of national heritage and culture.

Cabinet meeting

Speaking at the cabinet’s subsequent first meeting, PM Shehbaz highlighted the massive economic challenges facing his administration, and said that the first test of the new government was to rein in inflation and prices of food items, especially during the holy month of Ramazan which starts today (Tuesday).

“I will not tolerate any kind of disturbance in the prices of commodities in the federal territory,” he emphasized and assured the provinces of support.

He underlined the need for strict monitoring of distribution of different food items under the Rs12bn Ramazan package.

“On one hand, the common man is being crushed under the burden of a price hike, but on the other, the rich control over 90 per cent of the country’s resources,” he observed, and called upon the well to-do to play their role in ensuring national prosperity.

PM Shehbaz regretted that about Rs500 billion was lost to power theft annually and questioned the subsidy provided to the elite classes, terming it the biggest contradiction.

He also mentioned that the combined circular debt of the power and gas sector had spiraled out of control.

Talking about the high cost of power due to the functioning of ‘junk plants’ running on diesel and incurring billions in losses, he said: “Different mafias involved in this cycle should be dealt with”.

The prime minister also underscored the need for enhancing the tax net without burdening honest tax payers, and stressing the plugging of loopholes which led to tax evasion.

The prime minister also termed the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), as an effective mechanism in improving the investment environment in the country, cutting red tape and curtailing serious delays.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2024

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