It seems as if the age of austerity is dead in Pakistan. Forced by international donor agencies as well as the devolution of many powers to the provinces under the Eighteenth Amendment, last year the government cut many ministries, most of which served no discernible purposes other than offering cushy jobs to friends and allies. Now, many of them are back to head newly-created ministries. The government inducted 11 new ministers on April 13, bringing the total number to 49 — a 20 per cent increase in the size of the federal cabinet. The expansion in the size of government is unnecessary, with many of the new ministries simply duplicating work that could be done by others. Pakistan is not yet out of the economic woods and the government is still operating at a considerable budget deficit. Thus the prime minister needs to explain why austerity is no longer needed in government.
No matter what the government may say, it is evident that these new ministers have been appointed simply to reward those who lost their posts last year. One such man who has been handed a plum new ministry is Raja Pervez Ashraf, who in his capacity as minister for water and power has been credibly accused of corruption in the rental power projects. Indeed, the Supreme Court has ordered his name to be placed on the exit control list. It’s bad enough that nearly a dozen new ministers have been foisted on the nation; but that those ministers themselves do not have a clean reputation only makes their appointment worse.
The fact is that the PPP is entering an election year for which it is using the levers of power to aid its re-election. Eleven new ministers means eleven more opportunities for shovelling funds that the party hopes will attract new voters. Bringing back those who had been left out in the cold also ensures that none of these new ministers will ditch the PPP for opposition parties. It seems this is more important to the ruling party rather than ensuring sound governance and bringing the country back to a solid financial footing. It may help the PPP in the short-term but will only end up causing further damage to the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2012.