If it worked in Punjab, the ruling party is banking on it to work in the Centre.
Getting serious about the rising chorus of discontent, not only from the opposition but within its own ranks too, regarding the efficacy and availability of ministers and officials, the prime minister is set to put in place a body similar to Punjab’s famed all-powerful Public Affairs Unit.
After facing a barrage of complaints during a meeting with senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has constituted a high-level committee to liaison between his ministers and the party’s lawmakers, as well as to bridge the perceived gap between the Prime Minister House and his party’s parliamentarians, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The issue of the performance of federal law ministers was brought up when Nawaz presided over a PML-N parliamentary board meeting on Sunday in Lahore. Senior leaders attending the meeting also spoke of the extreme frustration of not getting access to the prime minister on pressing matters, said sources privy to the proceedings of the meeting.
The premier was told that federal ministers are missing from National Assembly sessions and are then also not approachable outside parliament. When the ministers do attend National Assembly sessions, the prime minister was told, they avoid meeting lawmakers who bring constituency-related problems to them.
It was further added during the meeting that when the lawmakers are in the capital for a National Assembly session, they visit a ministry directly but the federal secretary concerned is usually also not available. They alleged that the secretary only returns after the National Assembly session is over and the lawmakers have left the capital to return to their constituencies. The senior PML-N lawmakers said that when the secretaries are questioned about their non-availability, they say that they were busy carrying out the tasks of the prime minister.
The day after hearing the complaints, Prime Minister Sharif on Monday constituted a three-member committee comprising Hamza Shahbaz, Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar and senior leader Chaudhry Saud Majeed.
Within the current week, the committee will interview various bureaucrats to bring on board – after which the committee will be officially notified along with its terms of reference.
According to the initial sketch, the committee will not only ensure the attendance and availability of ministers, but also evaluate their performance. If federal minister belonging to Punjab remains absent from the proceedings of a session, the concerned district authority will be tasked to track him down and ask him to attend.
Based on their communication with lawmakers, the committee will also evaluate the need for development projects in different constituencies and coordinate between ministries and departments to ensure their execution.
When approached to confirm the formation of the committee, Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said that while he wasn’t aware of its formation, if the prime minister had made such a commitment it would be fulfilled.
The prime minister’s press secretary did not respond to questions regarding the committee.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2013.
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