October issue 2004

By | News & Politics | Published 20 years ago

After the unprecedented turnout in the Attock and Tharparkar constituencies, and his ‘landslide’ victory, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz exhibited his largesse by appointing the biggest ever cabinet in the country’s history, comprising 59 members. He did so in direct violation of General Musharraf’s rhetoric about austerity and the recommendations of the Committee on Restructuring and Rightsizing of the Federal Ministries and Division formed in August 2000 on the basis of a cabinet decision — of which, ironically, Aziz himself was a key member. In addition to the 59 ministers, the Prime Minister has appointed three constitutional advisers who automatically become members of the cabinet. Of the three, two — Sharifuddin Pirzada and Nilofar Bakhtiar — have also been in the Jamali cabinet, while the third is newcomer, Dr. Salman Shah. It is likely that the advisers’ pool will grow further, as under the constitution, the Prime Minister is allowed to have five advisers.

Eleven other top government officials have been given the status of federal ministers and ministers of state, including Hamid Nasir Chattha, Daniyal Aziz, Tariq Ikram, Dr Nasim Ashraf, AGN Abbasi, Mahmood Ali, Raja Tridev Roy, Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, Dr Ashfaq Ahmad and Major General Inayat-ullah Niazi. However, though these individuals will enjoy the perks and privileges of ministers, they cannot refer to themselves as ministers, nor are they entitled to attend cabinet meetings, except on special invitation, as has been the case with Daniyal Aziz. They are also not allowed to use flagstaff cars.

During Balakh Sher Mazari’s 37-day rule the number of ministries was increased to a record high, but the entire interim set-up was declared null and void by the Supreme Court while restoring the Nawaz Sharif government. That apart, previous to Shaukat Aziz’s cabinet, the credit for having the largest cabinet went to former Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo, who had almost 50 ministers and ministers of state. Benazir Bhutto also had an expanded cabinet, but did not make history in this respect.

Shaukat Aziz’s cabinet is almost twice the size of the one operating under former Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali. His cabinet had 18 ministers and seven ministers of state, taking the total to 25. Jamali also had five advisers.

During his 45-day rule, which ended with the elevation of Shaukat Aziz to Prime Minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain largely continued with the Jamali cabinet. Hussain added only two ministers from among the FATA MPs to take the number of ministers and ministers of state up to 27.

Shaukat Aziz’s cabinet has 22 members more than Shujaat’s, and except for two ministers of state, includes all the members of the Shujaat-Jamali cabinet.

Interestingly, the government had to create new ministries and divisions to match the number of ministers it had inducted. Among the very first orders issued by the new Prime Minister, was, in fact, the creation of new ministries. These include ministries of textiles, tourism, minorities, ports and shipping, social welfare and special education. There is also a new ministry of defence production, while the former ministry of industries and production has been renamed the ministry of industries, production and special initiatives. Until the printing of this report, seven federal secretary slots were still lying vacant, while the ministers are well ensconced in their respective positions.

Based on the official data, one federal minister’s monthly salary, inclusive of special relief allowance, utility allowance, equipment allowance, transport, house furnishings and assorted bills amounts to 138, 500 rupees. Monies spent on foreign tours and accommodation in the ministers’ enclave are in addition to this sum. Salaries, perks and benefits, transportation, accommodation and retirement benefits allocated for personal staff officers, private secretaries, personal assistants, stenotypists, dispatch riders and peons are also not included in ministers’ monthly expenses. Similarly, a state minister costs the national exchequer 110,000 rupees each month.

After the cabinet formulation, the government appointed 33 parliamentary secretaries from among currently serving MNAs. This number is also expected to rise to 42 to equal the number of federal divisions. Besides official staff, parliamentary secretaries are entitled to telephone facilities at home and in the office, in addition to an official car, and the perks and privileges allowed to members of Parliament. For the record, Shaukat Aziz has already expanded the Federal Secretariat to a record level, with 39 ministries and 42 divisions. This means that there will be at least 39 parliamentary secretaries. Apart from ministers, state ministers and parliamentary secretaries, the government has also set up 39 standing committees of the National Assembly for each federal division. The 27 chairmen of these committees, most of whom belong to the ruling parties, are also allowed offices, staff, telephone facilities and staff cars. Besides these there are two NA special committees, one on Kashmir and the other on the implementation of a presidential package on agriculture. Similarly, there are 27 chairmen for the Senate’s standing committees for various divisions, who are enjoying all the privileges of their dual positions as parliamentarians and heads of their respective bodies.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is retaining the ministries of finance and revenue, planning and development and economic affairs and statistics.

Conservative estimates — based on official data on salaries, perks and privileges — suggest that the monthly expenditure incurred by the federal cabinet, parliamentary secretaries, chairmen of the NA and Senate standing committees and special committees on the national exchequer exceeds the figure of 200 million rupees annually. The same sum of money could provide employment for some 5,833 individuals in the public sector.

Federal Information Minister, Shaikh Rashid Ahmad downplayed the estimated annual expenditure while replying to a question. He told Newsline, “This is not a big cabinet. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have cabinets of the same size.” The minister also maintained that with the induction of some young parliamentarians, fresh air will be breathed into the cabinet, and furthermore, these young ministers would receive hands-on training to run the affairs of the state.

In response to the critical question of whether efficiency would improve with the huge battalion of ministers, Rashid said, “I’m sure it will as the Prime Minister has set targets for each of us, and they will be reviewed every three months.” The Prime Minister, himself, has reportedly stated that his cabinet will be instrumental in improving the system of governance in of the country.

Since the new cabinet took oath, National Assembly proceedings have been routinely plagued by a lack of quorum. Some 100 MNAs of the treasury benches have been abstaining from the sessions. These include, among others, Kashmala Tariq who is annoyed she has not been made a minister. Those appointed ministers and committee chairmen, meanwhile, seem to have little interest in the proceedings, many having opted for official overseas tours.

Federal Minister, Sher Afgan, had to withdraw a letter in which he advised his treasury colleagues not to plan official overseas trips when either of the two houses was in session after facing serious humiliation in the Senate at their hands. Now the government is mulling over a plan to offer the senators lucrative offices, such as chairmen of corporations like PIA and PTV, to induce them to stay in the country and attend sessions.

All the perks the ministers have been offered notwithstanding, not all the ministers will enjoy equal benefits. Since there are 23 bungalows in the Ministers’ Enclave and candidates for a house many times that number, there are bound to be some disgruntled ministers. It is a similar situation with other official chambers and cars as the cabinet’s central pool of official vehicles cannot meet the inflated demands of the new cabinet. According to an estimate, the government will have to purchase a new fleet of cars to meet the new requirements. To complicate matters further, every appointee wants the newest model in cars and the best accommodation, preferably in Islamabad’s E-7 sector if the minister’s enclave is not available. The minimum rent of a medium sized house in this sector is around 60,000 rupees.

All the concerned ministries have been directed to arrange the vehicles for their respective ministers and parliamentary secretaries from their own resources. Moreover, the ministries have also been tasked to make available offices and provide staff for their ministers and parliamentary secretaries, and if the funds required for these provisions are in short supply, the ministries have been asked to directly approach the Prime Minister’s office.

When the new ministries were created, their respective functions were not clearly outlined and neither the concerned Federal Ministries that have been split to create the new ones, nor the finance ministry, nor even the management services wing of the establishment division were involved. As for how ministries have been divided, the former ministry of culture, sports, tourism, youth affairs and minorities is a good example. It has now been split into three ministries — the ministry of tourism, the ministry of minorities and the ministry of culture, sports and youth affairs.

A cabinet notification has created the ministry of defence production by splitting the defence ministry. It is worth mentioning here, that former Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali had attempted to put PIA under his own control by taking it out of the defence ministry, but eventually reversed this decision after Defence Minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal threatened to quit. And now there is talk of a ministry of aviation, but nothing has materialised in this respect so far.

The ministry of ports and shipping has been created through the bifurcation of the ministry of communication. The former ministry of women, development, social welfare and special education, has now been divided into a women’s ministry and the ministry of social welfare and special education.

While defending the government, the Prime Minister’s secretariat contended that under the rules of business the Prime Minister has the discretion to create as many ministries as he feels are needed. Section 3(2) of the rules of business, the spokesman said, reads: “The Prime Minister may, whenever necessary, constitute a new ministry consisting of one or more divisions.”

Critics of the bulky, new set-up, however, maintain that not only is the expansion of the secretariat in direct conflict with the much-publicised ‘rightsizing’ of the government machinery, but also that it negates good governance. They argue that good governance demands that new institutions should only be created after thorough discussions and following consultations between the concerned institutions, not in the hasty manner witnessed this time.

On August 23, 2000, the cabinet formed a central committee headed by the deputy chairman, Planning Commission, to restructure and ‘rightsize’ the federal ministries and cabinet division. After holding 18 detailed meetings, the committee came up with a report which was submitted to General Pervez Musharraf who had declared himself the committee’s chief executive. The report recommended the merger of divisions and ministries rather than the creation of new ministries by bifurcating the existing ones.

The report states, “The CRR reviewed 30 federal divisions. Based on their working, mission statements, requirements of consistent policy-making and effective coordination, the committee proposes to merge many divisions and have their number reduced. The CRR proposes the merger of 30 divisions into 21 divisions.”

The committee had also recommended, “In order to protect the high calibre required for quality decision-making, a division merging into another would be called a wing and be headed by a special secretary in BS 22.”

So much for the recommendations. Instead, what the nation has seen after the assumption of office by the smart Citibank economist is a complete U-turn from the previous much talked about policy of austerity. Clearly, that policy was just that — talk.

And despite all the tall claims by Shaukat Aziz of the benefits of such a huge cabinet, no one is fooled. This is a direct manifestation of the politics of appeasement and accommodation.