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Cabinet expansion draws mixed reaction

Caretaker Chief Minister Sindh Justice (retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi. – File Photo
Caretaker Chief Minister Sindh Justice (retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi. – File Photo

KARACHI: The fresh expansion of the provincial cabinet, which has made the caretaker government in Sindh the largest among such set-ups in Islamabad and the other provinces, has drawn a mixed response from political parties.

Over the weekend the caretaker Chief Minister of Sindh, retired Justice Zahid Qurban Alavi, expanded the cabinet by inducting three more ministers, two advisers and as many special assistants.

With the latest addition, the cabinet now has 17 ministers, five advisers and three special assistants.

The total strength of the provincial caretaker minister is slightly more than the provision of the Constitution, which says that a provincial cabinet shall not exceed fifteen members or eleven per cent of the total membership of the provincial assembly, whichever is higher.

Given that there is no assembly in place at present, the ministers in the caretaker set-up should have not been more than 15, according to experts.

The number of advisers (five) is just on a par with the provision in the Constitution, which, however, does not state the number of special assistants.

However, a spokesperson for the caretaker set-up said the cabinet was expanded to govern efficiently and that they would not exceed the provisions given in the Constitution in that regard.

“The chief minister expanded the cabinet to run the government smoothly as certain departments were to be led by ministers to work properly till we hand them over to the next elected government. It was the need of the hour,” said Noorul Huda Shah, the caretaker information minister, while speaking to Dawn.

She said because of reshuffle in various departments on the direction of the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of Pakistan, there was dearth of leaders to run them, compelling the chief minister to expand his team.

“It is difficult for the chief minister to supervise all or most of the departments; that was why he expanded the cabinet.

However, rest assured, the government won’t exceed the limit given in the Constitution,” she reiterated.

Ms Shah made it clear that no further expansion in the cabinet was being planned.

Asked why the cabinet in Sindh was bigger than that of Punjab province, which has just five ministers, she said there was a huge difference between the political and administrative set-ups and cultures of the two provinces.

The caretaker government did not want to put works of public interest on hold, which was the basic reason for a big cabinet, she argued.

The coalition partners in the previous government, Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, had a similar stance over the cabinet expansion. Both believed that it was the caretaker CM’s prerogative to expand the cabinet to his satisfaction to run the government efficiently.

“We are not part of the caretaker set-up; it is the jurisdiction of the CM to make his own team to ensure impartial and peaceful election. However, the cabinet’s strength should not exceed the constitutional limit,” said Najmi Alam, general-secretary of the PPP Karachi division.

MQM’s spokesman Wasay Jalil had a similar stance on the issue but he emphasised the need to improve the exacerbating law and order situation in the province.

“It is the chief minister’s right to form a team to his satisfaction, but the caretaker set-up should give top priority to the law and order in Sindh, which is worsening and making it difficult for peaceful political parties to take part in elections with the rigor and resources equal to their rivals,” he said.

Awami National Party, which too was a part of the previous provincial coalition despite having issues with the MQM, said the caretaker government were left with less than a month to govern and the recent expansion was pointless.

“Such expansion in the cabinet was unnecessary and useless given the fact that their only job is to ensure holding of impartial elections,” he said, adding, “such actions are giving rise to the suspicion that the caretaker set-up is here to stay for longer time than what it is supposed to be.”

Sardar Rahim, a former lawmaker and longstanding Nawaz Sharif loyalist who recently joined Pir Pagara’s PML-F, was of the opinion that the caretaker set-up in Sindh was biased to the advantage of the PPP and the MQM.

“The Sindh cabinet is already a B-team of the PPP and the MQM and this expansion seems to be aimed at benefiting the previous ruling coalition partners in winning at their convenience,” argued Mr Rahim, who is a PML-F candidate on PS-113 and PS-114 of Karachi.

However, he added, it was yet to be seen how this cabinet would influence election results or whether the election commission would succeed to dispel this government’s influence and make elections ‘truly impartial’.