ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani inducted into his new cabinet on Friday 21 ministers and one minister of state as the first batch to see his coalition government through the remaining two years. Five new faces were introduced. President Asif Ali Zardari administered the oath of office to the new ministers at a ceremony in the President’s House.
Eighteen of the ministers are from the Pakistan People’s Party and the remaining four from three coalition partners and a group of Fata parliamentarians.
The induction of the new team came two days after more than 50 ministers handed over their resignations to Mr Gilani at a farewell cabinet meeting on Wednesday. It was in line with a decision of the PPP’s Central Executive Committee authorising the prime minister to reconstitute a new smaller team aimed at reducing expenses and improving efficiency and to partly meet a reforms agenda given by the opposition PML-N.
The prime minister has described the move as implementation of a provision of the 18th Amendment requiring the cabinet size not to exceed 11 per cent of the total strength of the two houses of parliament.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s absence from the new team is a big surprise for political pundits. There was no immediate explanation from either the government or the PPP for the omission. He led the foreign ministry for nearly three years.
But the capital was abuzz with speculations about whether his omission was the result of a lack of trust in his handling of the country’s foreign relations or did it have anything to do with new tensions with the United States over the fate of an American citizen arrested for shooting to death two youths in Lahore last month.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s House said Mr Qureshi had come there along with other aspirants for cabinet slots, but declined to accompany the prime minister to the President’s House for the oath-taking ceremony.
However, the foreign affairs portfolio remains vacant — not cited among eight ministries which will remain with the prime minister for the time being — although Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, who was minister of state in the previous cabinet, was named minister of state for foreign affairs in the new team, replacing Nawabzada Malik Amad Khan.
Other important erstwhile ministers omitted from the new team include Raja Pervez Ashraf (water and power), Qamar Zaman Kaira (information and broadcasting) and Nazar Mohmmad Gondal (food and agriculture). Most of the PPP ministers retained their previous portfolios. Mian Raza Rabbani retained the ministry of inter-provincial coordination which he held for about a year before quitting the cabinet, along with the leader of the house in the Senate in protest against the appointment by the PPP leadership of Farooq H. Naek as chairman of the upper house.
In allocating portfolios, the prime minister has made only a few changes and his retention of eight ministries — water and power, human rights, information technology and telecommunications, defence production, petroleum and natural resources, overseas Pakistanis, ports and shipping, and housing and works — indicates that these will be given in the second phase to PPP men and possibly his disgruntled allies — MQM and JUI-F — if they agree to rejoin the cabinet.
Those who retained their portfolios are: Makhdoom Amin Fahim (commerce), Abdul Hafeez Sheikh (finance, revenue and economic affairs), Rehman Malik (interior), Khurshid Ahmed Shah (religious affairs), Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar (defence), Zaheeruddin Babar Awan (law, justice and parliamentary affairs), Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo (Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan affairs) and Shahbaz Bhatti (minorities) of the PPP and Ghulam Ahmed Bilour (railways) of the Awami National Party.
The PPP ministers whose portfolios have been changed are: Syed Naveed Qamar (privatisation instead of petroleum and natural resources), Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan (information and broadcasting instead of women development), Ms Samina Khalid Ghurki (environment instead of social welfare and special education), Makhdoom Shahabuddin (textile instead of health which has been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment).
Israrullah Zehri of the Baloch National Party (Awami) got the food and agriculture portfolio.
The ministry of states and frontier regions, which was previously held by PPP’s Najmuddin Khan from Dir, has been allocated to Eng Shaukatullah from Fata.
An interesting aspect of what is being described as rightsizing of the cabinet is that no effort has been made to merge divisions of various ministries which had once been part of main ministries. For instance, postal services, which remained part of communications in the past, has not been merged with the main ministry, textile, which was separated from the industries ministry.
One minister each has been taken from coalition partners — ANP, PML-F, BNP-A and Fata parliamentary group. The MQM and JUI-F did not agree to return to the cabinet.
Besides Senator Rabbani, the new ministers include Mir Changez Jamali (science and technology) and Sardar Mohammad Umar Gorage (postal services) of the PPP, Khuda Bakhsh Rajar (narcotics control) of the PML-F and Eng Shaukatullah (states and frontier regions).
According to the PM’s House sources, a criterion has been set for taking one minister from each division. Since Qamar Zaman Kaira and Nazar Muhammad Gondal belong to the Gujrat division, from where Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar was to be taken, the two former ministers have been dropped.
Officials said that more ministers would be sworn in at a later date, possibly after the president’s address to a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament next month.
OPPOSITION SCEPTICISM: Although there was no immediate reaction from any major opposition figure over the formation of the new cabinet, some opposition members voiced scepticism.
PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique described the team as “old wine in a new bottle”.
PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq said the government had proved it had no ability to deal with challenges of corruption and mismanagement.
PML-Q’s Senator Tariq Azim saw the reduction in the size of the cabinet a welcome sign, but said it had to be seen if the government changed its policies and took steps to check mismanagement and corruption.