CM to shed ministries one-by-one

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On stern orders from Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) President Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif is on the brink of giving up ministries to his advisers and assistants, in phases, to patch up the deteriorating image of his party, Pakistan Today learnt on Friday. The CM had already relieved himself of eight ministries on February 2 and two ministries on February 8. The original plan to expand the Punjab cabinet has been aborted and replaced with a strategy of shedding the CM’s ministries one by one. Sources revealed that change in direction came after consultations with Ishaq Dar, Chaudhry Nisar, Khawaja Asif and Shahbaz Sharif in Raiwind and Punjab House after Nawaz’s recent return from a foreign tour.
Shahbaz had remained adamant despite other political parties criticising him for holding 18 ministries, but a senior PML-N leader told Pakistan Today the PML-N’s Nawaz camp had come down hard on Shahbaz for clinging to the Health Ministry despite facing multiple crises, including the dengue epidemic, doctors’ strike and the PIC medical tragedy. Inflating cabinet does not make sense: Earlier, the PML-N had decided to expanding the cabinet by retracting maximum ministries from under the control of the CM but an influential think tank opposed the move and suggested that as elections drew closer, inflating the cabinet did not make any sense. It argued that the PML-N government in Punjab had ruled with minimum cabinet strength and validated that austerity was the best policy. Thus, it reiterated that cabinet expansion would negate the party’s own policy, which has been in practice since 2008.
A source close to PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif said that the think tank managed to convince Nawaz to advise Shahbaz Sharif to release his ministries one by one to ‘kill two birds with one stone.’
“On the one hand, it will help pacify dissent within the party, on the other hand it will accommodate a number of party leaders eagerly awaiting laurels as election stunts,” he added.
From ‘task force rule’ to ‘advisor rule’: PML-N’s basic ideology counteracts cabinet expansion. Since 2008, the year when PML-N government came into power in Punjab, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif has rebuffed the idea of cabinet expansion and has been vying to run the government through task forces. However, task forces had to be abolished on public pressure on September 27, 2010. Later, governance affairs were carried out via the presence of multiple portfolios for a few ministers. The policy had to be changed due to opposition from various quarters. The current strategy is that advisers and assistants to the CM will look after government affairs.
The Punjab CM handed over eight ministries to members of his cabinet, assistants and advisers on February 2. Pervaiz Rasheed now holds the provincial Information Ministry while Saeed Mehdi will supervise the Management and Professional Development Ministry. Meanwhile, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has the additional charge of the Ministry of Community Development. Similarly, Ahmed Ali, Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor and Manshallah Butt will hold the departments of telecommunications, energy and food respectively. Housing and Urban Development Department is now held by Ahsanuddin Qureshi while Jehanzaib Burki will work as the minister’s advisor on prosecution.
On February 8, Shahbaz Sharif appointed Khawaja Salman Raiq and Zaeem Hussain Qadri as assistants and gave them charge of Health Ministry and Higher Education. A petition was recently filed against Shahbaz in the Lahore High Court challenging the multiple portfolios held by the CM. The petitioner argued that in accordance with the rules, a relevant minister was responsible for taking care of business pertaining to their departments in the assembly; whereas the chief minister hardly found time to attend the assembly sessions.

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