‘Rightsizing’ the federal cabinet

Federal Law Minister Babar Awan announced on Saturday the government’s decision to ‘rightsize’ the federal cabinet given the financial and political crises. Some reports indicate that after Mr Awan’s announcement, many ministers got worried and started lobbying in order to save their positions. It remains to be seen which ministers will be asked to leave the cabinet. On Sunday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that it has been finalised that changes and cuts in the federal cabinet will take place as per the 18th Amendment but these changes will be implemented after consulting party members and PPP’s coalition partners. The Ministry for Local Government and Rural Development, Ministry of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Zakat and Ushr, Ministry for Population Welfare and Ministry for Special Affairs were the five federal ministries that had already been transferred to the provinces last year. Five more ministries will be devolved by the end of February in the second phase while eight more ministries will either be devolved to the provinces in the third phase or merged with other divisions according to latest reports.Even though Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claims that there are over 100 cabinet ministers, there are 34 federal ministers, 18 ministers of state and two advisors, which shows that the federal cabinet’s strength is 54. Chaudhry Nisar may have included the 29 parliamentary secretaries in the list but technically they do not enjoy the same perks and privileges that are given to the federal cabinet.

Cutting down the cabinet size is a politically sensitive matter given the fact that the PPP-led coalition government is already quite fragile. That said, it is important that the size of the federal cabinet should be decreased because of the financial constraints. Having a huge cabinet is a luxury that Pakistan can ill-afford at the moment. On the other hand, critics have always pointed fingers at federal ministers for spending money unnecessarily but if truth be told, the bureaucracy should be blamed for most of the expenditure. Members of the bureaucracy who are assigned to the ministries are more of a drain on the exchequer than the federal ministers themselves. While the government is taking a good step by rightsizing the federal cabinet, it should also keep in mind how to cut down on bureaucratic expenditure. Every government, be it civilian or military, has been a victim of red-tapism. Our bureaucracy is not just inept but it has cost the state billions of rupees due to its ad hoc culture.

Zulfikar Bhutto’s nationalisation process failed because of the inefficiency of the bureaucratic set-up. Apart from the federal cabinet, the financial discrepancies at the provincial level should also be checked. Reports suggest that some international donor organisations have stopped funding projects in Sindh after receiving complaints about corruption.Pakistan is going through one of its worst phases in history. Our economy is in the doldrums, especially after the floods last year. Now that the IMF tranche hangs in the balance because of the non-implementation of the RGST, another financial crisis is on the cards. In these trying times, the government machinery must take measures to cut down its cost as much as possible. Being a dependent state does not mean that we take the international donors for a ride. It is time to act responsibly – Dailytimes