At a time when the country’s economy is consistently showing a decline and the burden of debt is becoming heavier, the government has seen fit to expand the federal cabinet. It has inducted five new federal ministers and six state ministers, taking the size of the cabinet to 53 members.
The development was expected since there had been some political maneouvring already going on within the Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) circles in the run up to the general elections. However, an increase in the size of the cabinet was the last thing expected from a government that had at least in word if not in deed expressed the necessity of austerity. Owing to the austerity drive, the government had reduced the cabinet’s size last year in February. That move was to bring the size of the cabinet in line with the constitution, which now restricts the size of the cabinet. At the time of the ‘downsizing’, the cabinet comprised 59 members, which was in violation of the relevant constitutional provisions. The government’s decision had been appreciated by many, but after only a year; it has expanded the cabinet again, seemingly for purely political reasons as the bitter ground realities are still the same. An increase in the cabinet after the devolution of ministries under the 18th Amendment does not make sense. If the government needed to appoint new ministers on some important ministerial portfolios to improve their performance in an election year, it should have replaced the unsatisfactory ministers instead of adding to the cabinet.
The former information minister and the PPP’s stalwart Qamar Zaman Kaira has been inducted once again. Speculations are rife that he is going to replace incumbent Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, who perhaps has not come up to the government’s expectations. It also appears that the reasons due to which Kaira was replaced now stand weaker in front of the challenge that this government faces. Kaira would probably do a better job of projecting a good image of the PPP-led government. However, the move is going to cast a lot of extra burden on the national exchequer. The perks and privileges enjoyed by ministers are exemplary as even their counterparts belonging to many advanced countries do not enjoy the same. Millions of rupees are spent on them on a monthly basis, which is in stark contrast to the plight of this country’s majority of the impoverished masses. Whither austerity?