Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has decided to expand the provincial cabinet from nine to 25 after Eid to placate members of his party angry about the uneven distribution of development funds among MPAs, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Well-placed sources told The Tribune that Sharif had told some members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to prepare to take charge of ministries. He reportedly told them, ‘Jaan toon pehlaan twanoon jhandi lawaan ga’ (I’ll get you a flag before the government’s term ends).
The chief minister also told them, however, that their tenures would be short, since the party had decided to launch a movement to bring down the federal government and so they might soon have to resign from the assemblies.
The sources said that portfolios would be handed to PML-N members who feel short-changed over the distribution of development funds among MPAs by the Punjab government. Some MPAs had been granted up to Rs100 million for development works in their constituencies over the last three-and-a-half years, while others had been given only a fifth of that sum during the Punjab government’s term, said the sources.
None of the new cabinet members will be from the Unification Bloc, the sources said, as the latter’s MPAs had received higher development allocations than PML-N members. Another reason was that pretty much each bloc member was keen on becoming a minister, and it was feared that giving a portfolio to one or two of them might anger the others and lead to the break-up of the group.
The Unification Bloc is a group of 41 dissident MPAs of the PML-Quaid, the leading opposition party in the Punjab Assembly, who back the Punjab government. Governor Sardar Latif Khan Khosa has said on several occasions that he would not administer the oath of office to members of the Unification Bloc for ministries, an indication that the governor, a lawyer, believes them to have questionable legal status.
Senior Unification Bloc leader Mian Ata Muhammad Khan Maneka indicated the difficulty for the government of keeping both its party members and the Unification Bloc happy. He told The Express Tribune that the PML-N’s decision to expand the cabinet was “too late” and would be of no benefit. “There are a lot of issues besides the unequal distribution of funds which have tarnished the image of the Punjab government,” he said.
The provincial cabinet has only had nine members since seven Pakistan Peoples Party ministers were de-notified in February 2011.
Two of the ministers (Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman and Ahmad Ali Aulakh) hold six portfolios each.
The chief minister himself is in charge of 14 departments.
Punjab government spokesman Senator Pervaiz Rashid said that he was not privy to information about the expansion of the provincial cabinet.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2011.